Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Diagnosing early Alzheimer’s and Mild Cognitive Impairment: Emerging Challenges and Implications

Blurry line in diag­nos­ing early Alzheimer’s: study (Reuters):

  • The revised def­i­n­i­tion of a brain con­di­tion called mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment means that many peo­ple now con­sid­ered to have mild or early Alzheimer’s dis­ease could eas­ily be given that diag­no­sis instead, sug­gests a new study.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alzheimer’s Disease and Music: A Door to Past and New Memories

Music can soothe and trig­ger mem­o­ries. It is as such that music is most often used with Alzheimer’s patients. A new study sug­gests that music may also be used as a booster for learn­ing new things, an abil­ity very impaired in those with Alzheimer’s.

Indi­vid­u­als with Alzheimer’s and matched con­trols were pre­sented with unfa­mil­iar songs lyrics: half of the lyrics were sung and half were merely spo­ken. Par­tic­i­pants were then pre­sented with the lyrics they had heard as well as with new ones, and asked whether they rec­og­nized any lyrics.

Alzheimer’s patients’ mem­ory was much bet­ter for sung lyrics than for spo­ken ones. There was no dif­fer­ence between the two types of lyrics for the healthy older adults.

Why do peo­ple with Alzheimer’s seem to ben­e­fit from musi­cal stim­uli? Read the rest of this entry »

Can Direct Brain Stimulation Boost Performance?

Neu­rons in the brain trans­mit infor­ma­tion by exchang­ing elec­tri­cal and chem­i­cal sig­nals. What would hap­pen if these elec­tri­cal sig­nals were trans­formed by apply­ing an exter­nal cur­rent? Could this help boost brain functions?

In this arti­cle, Tran­scra­nial direct cur­rent stim­u­la­tion (tDCS) is reported to help peo­ple solve brain-teasers. In the study weak cur­rents altered the activ­ity of neu­rons in the ante­rior tem­po­ral lobes through elec­trodes on the scalp. Read more

In this other arti­cle another tech­nique was used: Tran­scra­nial mag­netic stim­u­la­tion (TMS). TMS works by gen­er­at­ing a mag­netic field that passes the scalp and the skull. In the study an exploratory use of TMS com­bined with cog­ni­tive train­ing was tested for a few months on 8 Alzheimer’s patients. The results were promis­ing. Read more

Finally, this arti­cle reports the use of a dif­fer­ent, more inva­sive tech­nique: deep brain stim­u­la­tion (DBS). Read the rest of this entry »

References on Cognitive Health/ Brain Fitness

This is a par­tial list of the lit­er­a­ture we reviewed dur­ing the research phase of our new book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness.  We know many friends of Sharp­Brains are researchers, health­care pro­fes­sion­als, graduate/ Ph.D. stu­dents, who want have direct access to the ref­er­ences (per­haps PubMed should pro­mote itself as a never end­ing source of men­tal stim­u­la­tion?), so here you have this list, orga­nized by rel­e­vant chap­ter. Please note that the list below appears in the book — whose man­u­script we had to close in Jan­u­ary 2009.


Basak, C. et al. (2008). Can train­ing in a real-time strat­egy video game atten­u­ate cog­ni­tive decline in older adults? Psy­chol­ogy and Aging.
Beg­ley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new sci­ence reveals our extra­or­di­nary poten­tial to trans­form our­selves. Bal­lan­tine Books.
DeKosky, S. T., et al. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for pre­ven­tion of demen­tia: a ran­dom­ized con­trolled trial. Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, 300, 2253–2262.
Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain that changes itself: Sto­ries of per­sonal tri­umph from the fron­tiers of brain sci­ence. Viking Adult.

Chap­ter 1. The Brain and Brain Fit­ness 101

Bunge, S. A., & Wright, S. B. (2007). Neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal changes in work­ing mem­ory and cog­ni­tive con­trol. Cur­rent Opin­ion In Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy, 17(2), 243–50.
Dama­sio, A. (1995). Descartes error: Emo­tion, rea­son, and the human brain. Pen­guin Press.
David Kolb, D. (1983). Expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing: Expe­ri­ence as the source of learn­ing and devel­op­ment. FT Press.
Dra­gan­ski, B., Gaser, C., Kem­per­mann, G., Kuhn, H. G., Win­kler, J., Buchel, C., & May A. (2006). Tem­po­ral and spa­tial dynam­ics of brain struc­ture changes dur­ing exten­sive learn­ing. The Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science, 261231, 6314–6317.
Gage, F. H., Kem­per­mann, G., & Song, H. (2007). Adult Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Cold Spring Har­bor Lab­o­ra­tory Press, NY.
Gard­ner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The the­ory of mul­ti­ple intel­li­gences. New York: Basic Books.
Gaser, C. & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain struc­tures dif­fer between musi­cians and non-musicians. The Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science, 23, 9240–9245. Read the rest of this entry »

A Multi-Pronged Approach to Brain Health

Larry McLeary

Try eat­ing food with one chop stick.

It is pos­si­ble, for cer­tain types of food. But prob­a­bly not the best approach.

Let’s now talk brain health.

Dr. Larry McCleary is a for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Children’s Hos­pi­tal, and author of the The Brain Trust Pro­gram (Perigee Trade, 2007). He agreed to help us answer an impor­tant, yet often neglected, ques­tion: Given That We Are Our Brains, How do We Nour­ish Them?

Alvaro: Dr. McCleary, Why did a for­mer neu­ro­sur­geon such as your­self develop an inter­est in brain health pub­lic education?

Dr. McCleary: For two rea­sons … I am a Boomer and am try­ing to max­i­mize my own brain health. Also, there is much excit­ing research doc­u­ment­ing how we can be proac­tive in this regard. This infor­ma­tion needs to be dis­sem­i­nated and I would like to help in this process.

And what is the sin­gle most impor­tant brain-related idea or con­cept that you would like every per­son in the planet to fully understand?

The most impor­tant take home mes­sage about brain health is that we now know that no mat­ter what your brain sta­tus or age, there is much you can do to sig­nif­i­cantly improve brain func­tion and slow brain aging. Based on emerg­ing infor­ma­tion, what is espe­cially nice is the fact that unlike many things in life our brain health is largely under own control.

What are the most impor­tant ele­ments to nour­ish our brains as we age?

I approach this ques­tion much like an ath­lete pre­pares for com­pe­ti­tion. They uti­lize a holis­tic approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Brains Way Smarter Than Ours (and yours, probably)

Brain Health NewsRoundup of recent articles:

1) Awards

–Very smart brains: Fun Slate arti­cle, Seven Inge­nious Rules: How to become a MacArthur genius, once the 24 new MacArthur Fel­lows were announced (Dear reader: if you are a past, present or future win­ner, please for­give me for the title).

-The Tech Museum of Inno­va­tion Announces 2007 Awards (we had been nom­i­nated, didn’t win).

2) Encour­ag­ing for the whole field: NASDAQ and Neu­roIn­sights Launch­ing Neu­rotech Index.

3) Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Prod­ucts: Hype or Hope for Main­tain­ing Inde­pen­dence?.

Great June arti­cle we had missed, includ­ing a link to a 23-page PDF overview: Intel­lec­tual Func­tion­ing in Adult­hood: Growth, Main­te­nance, Decline and Mod­i­fi­a­bil­ity by K. Warner Shaie & Sherry L. Willis (San Fran­cisco: Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging, 2005).

4) Mil­i­tary Backs Reforms: “The mil­i­tary will expand psy­cho­log­i­cal screen­ing for both new recruits and active-duty ser­vice mem­bers, and will make safe­guard­ing men­tal health part of the core train­ing for leaders”.

5) Ed Boy­den, who leads the MIT leads the Neu­ro­engi­neer­ing and Neu­ro­me­dia Group, has a new neu­rotech­nol­ogy blog.

6) More blog car­ni­vals: Edu­ca­tion, Tan­gled Bank (Sci­ence).

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