Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Do we all have a “brain age”?

Do we all have a “brain age”? Are all brain exer­cises equal? Does aging mean decline?

Answering these questions probably requires to debunk a few myths about the brain.

Understanding how our brain functions can help understand how it is possible for our brain to change, and what we can do to make these changes happen. This is why knowing how our brain works is the first habit to acquire on the road to boosting brain functions.

Wouldn’t it be very hard for a musician to get better at playing the clarinet if he didn’t know that it is the air that his mouth pulses into the instrument that creates its sounds? In the same way limited knowledge about the brain may be one of the reasons why many people do not take action to try to optimize the way their brain work.

Here are 10 Brain and Brain Fitness Myths, debunked for you: Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Expo Day; Top 15 Articles of 2009

In this January issue of our eNewsletter, we will first neuronsbrief you on the enlightening demos that will take place on Wednesday, January 20th, as part of the SharpBrains Summit, and then present the 15 most stimulating SharpBrains articles of 2009.

Expo Day

If you want to see and discuss the latest programs and technologies for brain fitness, presented by Summit Sponsors, Wednesday January 20th is your day. Each demo will last 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A.

9am. Baycrest/ Cogniciti will introduce the new Memory@Work workshop, designed to teach what memory is, how lifestyle factors such as distraction and stress can affect memory, and how to enhance memory performance at work with the use of enabling strategies.

10am. CogniFit will demo CogniFit Personal Coach and CogniFit Senior Driver, two online programs designed to assess and main cognitive functions for healthy living and safe driving, respectively.

11am. Posit Science will demo InSight, a software-based cognitive training package designed to sharpen brain’s visual system. This is the program being tested by Allstate for safer driving.

Noon. Happy Neuron will introduce HAPPYneuron PRO, a new platform for professionals for the effective delivery and management of cognitive remediation and rehabilitation programs in a patient centric manner.

1pm. SharpBrains will help navigate this growing field by discussing The State of the Brain Fitness Software 2009 report and The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness consumer guide, and summarizing key Summit take-aways.

Learn more and register HERE. Please remember that registration closes on January 17th.

We want to thank our most recent sponsor, the Arrowsmith Program, a comprehensive suite of cognitive programs for students with learning disabilities available in public and private schools in Canada and the U.S. More information here.

And now, let’s review the (in our view) 15 most stimulating articles of 2009.

The Big Picture

100 is the new 65: Why do some people live, and well, to 100? Researchers are trying to find out, reports Meera Lee Sethi at Greater Good Magazine.

Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin: Scott Barry Kaufman interviews “child prodigy” Joshua Waitzkin on The Art of Learning.

Debunking 10 Brain Health Myths: Does your brain have a “Brain Age”? Is a Magic Pill to prevent memory problems right around the corner?  Check out the facts to debunk 10 common myths.

Why is working memory relevant to reading and mathematics: A recent large UK study identified 1 in 10 students as having working memory difficulties. Dr. Tracy Alloway elaborates why this matters.

Change Your Environment, Change Yourself: Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains why new environments  force us to exit our routines and actively master unfamiliar challenges.”

Tools

Retooling Use it or lose it: Alvaro Fernandez discusses why routine, doing things inside our comfort zones, is the most common enemy of the novelty, variety and challenge our brains need.

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?): Dr. Pascale Michelon, dissects a couple of recent press releases and the underlying studies to clarifying what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

New Study Supports Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promising findings from the first well-designed controlled trial on the effect of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD.

Do Art Classes Boost Test Scores? Is there a “Mozart Effect?”: Some researchers suggest so; others are not convinced. Karin Evans offers a  thoughtful review of the evidence and asks, “Now, is this the right question?”

Does coffee boost cognitive functions over time? Dr. Pascale Michelon reports good news (long-term effects seem more positive than negative, so coffee leads to no clear harm) and bad ones (no clear beneficial effects on general brain functions).

Industry

Brain fitness heads towards its tipping point: How do you know when something is moving towards a Gladwellian tipping point? When insurance companies and policy makers pay attention, Dr. Gerard Finnemore reports.

Visual Representation of the State of the Market 2009: Paul Van Slembrouck beautifully presents the main findings of our 150-page market report, The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2009.

Michael Merzenich on brain fitness: neuroscientist Michael Merzenich discusses neuroplasticity, technology, safe driving, mental health, and the need for standards, automated assessments and “personal brain trainers”.

Brain Teaser

Stimulate your Concentration Skills: when one really wants to memorize a fact, it is crucial to pay attention. Dr. Pascale Michelon challenges you to count a few simple letters.

Resolution

Finally, an article that may inspire some New Year Resolutions. In Yes, You Can Build Willpower, Daniel Goleman discusses how the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day, how they migrate to where they are needed, and how each cell can make around 10,000 connections to other brain cells. Implication? Meditate, mindfully, and build positive habits.

Wishing you a Happy and Productive 2010, and looking forward to meeting many of you (200 so far) at the inaugural SharpBrains Summit!

Brain Training Market Talk, at MIT/ BoomerTech Series

We’ll have an exciting session in Palo Alto on October 6th, as part of the BoomerTech series organized by the MIT Club and SmartSilvers. Let me share the details now.

Fact or Fad: Who is Shaping the Brain Fitness Market?
Description: Lots of buzz … Perhaps you think that “Senior Moments” are an inevitable part of aging. MIT Club Northern CaliforniaBut research shows you may be able to keep your brain young and fit the same way you do your body, with exercise and training. With the success of Nintendo’s Brain Age, Posit Science and dozens of new software programs and games that promise “brain fitness”, the real question is: “Are we experiencing a fad, or an emerging new consumer market?”

Join our speaker, Alvaro Fernandez, author of the new book, The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, and our expert panel to discuss:

* What are the top products on the market today?
* Can the emerging field of Brain fitness improve your job performance?
* How will consumers make informed decisions on what to buy and use?
* What are the emerging trends to leverage for entrepreneurs to jump into the marketplace?

Click Here to Register

Speaker, Panelist & Moderator

Alvaro Fernandez, SharpBrains — Alvaro is co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains, a leading market research firm that tracks the market and research for cognitive assessments, training, and games. A member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils, he has been quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more, and recently co-authored the book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp. Alvaro received masters’ degrees in education and business from Stanford University, and teaches at UC-Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Panelists

Roger Quy, General Partner, Technology Partners — Roger has been responsible for the life science practice of Technology Partners since 1989. He specializes in neurotechnology, investing in both biopharma and medical device companies. Roger began his career at the Queen Square Institute of Neurology, London where he was a Research Fellow for the British Medical Research Council. He developed and commercialized techniques for monitoring the brains of ambulatory patients. He contributed to a textbook on epilepsy and holds eight patents. Roger earned a BA with honors in psychology and law and a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Keele, England. He received an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jan Zivic, Founder, Vibrant Brains — Jan’s interest in Brain Fitness is very personal. She suffered a traumatic brain injury after an automobile accident several years ago, and experienced the concept of neuroplasticity first-hand as she rehabilitated from not being able to walk or think rationally to restoring much of her previous function.

Jan has served in a variety of leadership roles including: the Board of Directors of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where she currently serves as President of the Board, the Library Commission of SF, the California Executive Recruiters Association (its first female President), the Katherine Delmar Burke Independent School, and The Family Services Agency of SF – President of the Board. Jan was recognized as The SF Cable Car Awards “Woman of the Year,” and later as the recipient of the Maya Angelou Community Leadership Award, from the University of California, San Francisco Medical School’s Center Of Excellence.

Date: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Time:

* 6:00PM Registration, Hors d’oeuvres and Networking
* 7:00PM Presentation and Panel Discussion

Cost:

* $20.00 in advance on the website
* $25.00 Walk-ins at the door (cash or check please, no credit cards accepted at door)

Contact:

Michael Sarfatti
tel 415-885-2293
sarfatti@alum.mit.edu

Location:

Wilson Sonsini
950 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Click Here to Register

Brain Quiz: Do You Have a Brain?

Have you already read The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness?

Let’s see…brain health and brain fitness

1. Pick the only part of your body that does not contain fat:

a. Arm
b. Thigh
c. Brain
d. None

Answer: d) Fats are also present in the brain: in neurons’ membranes to keep them flexible. These fats are the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids molecules. (Page 32 of the book)

2. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain Omega-3 fatty acids

a. Tuna
b. Walnut
c. Kiwi
d. Jelly Beans

Answer: d) Fatty acids can be found in cold-water fish (such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and tuna), kiwi, and walnuts. (Page 33)

3. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain antioxidants

a. Olive oil
b. Milk
c. Nuts
d. Berries

Answer: b) Antioxidants can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), citrus fruit, and berries. (Page 33)

4. Chronic Stress cannot:

a. Prevent you from being creative
b. Kill brain cells
c. Prevent you from sleeping
d. Kill liver cells

Answer: d) Prolonged exposure to adrenal steroid hormones like cortisol, which is released into the blood stream when we are stressed, can lead to cell death and block the formation of new neurons. (Page 35)

5. What type of physical exercise is the best for your brain health?

a. Weight lifting
b. Aerobic exercises
c. Flexibility exercises Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Scientific publication Frontiers in Neuroscience recently published a special issue on Augmenting Cognition, and invited me to contribute with an article titled Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age. Groundbreaking brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The opportunity to improve brain health and performance is immense, but we need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels. Click Here to read my article.

Announcements

In May 2009 SharpBrains published The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009, the main industry report for leading organizations preparing their members, their clients, and their patients for the cognitive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a market survey with 2,000+ respondents, detailed analysis of 20+ vendors, research briefs written by 12 leading scientists and data and trends for 4 major customer segments.webinar

Below we share the full Executive Summary of the report and announce an exclusive webinar on September 29th to discuss the State of the Market in more depth with buyers of the report.

To order the report and access both the report and the webinar, you can click Here. (Only $975 -a 25% discount- using Discount Code Frontiers2009 before September 28th).

State of the Market

The brain fitness field holds exciting promise for the future while presenting clear opportunities and challenges today. The good news is that there are more tools available than ever before to assess and train a variety of cognitive skills. The bad news is that there are no magic pills and that consumers, while satisfied overall, seem confused by competing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this early-stage market can mature in a more rational, structured manner; but there is much work to be done. We estimate that the size of the U.S. brain fitness software (i.e., applications designed to assess or enhance cognitive abilities) market in 2008 was Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this article belongs to the excellent May 2009 special issue on Augmenting Cognition at scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. The article, an industry overview, is reproduced here with authorization by the Frontiers Research Foundation)

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age

By Alvaro Fernandez

Groundbreaking cognitive neuroscience research has occurred over the last 20 years – without parallel growth of consumer awareness and appropriate professional dissemination. “Cognition” remains an elusive concept with unclear implications outside the research community.

Earlier this year, I presented a talk to health care professionals at the New York Academy of Medicine, titled “Brain Fitness Software: Helping Consumers Separate Hope from Hype”. I explained what computerized cognitive assessment and training tools can do (assess/enhance specific cognitive functions), what they cannot do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the current uncertainties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symptoms). At the same symposium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, provided guidance on why and how to screen for executive function deficits in the context of dementia.

I could perceive two emerging trends at the event: 1) “Augmenting Cognition” research is most commonly framed as a healthcare, often pharmacological topic, with the traditional cognitive bias in medicine of focusing on detection and treatment of disease, 2) In addition, there is a growing interest in non-invasive enhancement options and overall lifestyle issues. Research findings in Augmenting Cognition are only just beginning to reach the mainstream marketplace, mostly through healthcare channels. The opportunity is immense, but we will need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels.

In January 2009, we polled the 21,000 subscribers of SharpBrains’ market research eNewsletter to identify attitudes and behaviors towards the “brain fitness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a number of consumer surveys and focus groups to connect with a wider audience). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key questions we asked was, “What is the most important problem you see in the brain fitness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some examples of the survey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most important problems in the brain fitness field

Public awareness (39%): “To get people to understand that heredity alone does not decide brain functioning”. We need to ramp up efforts to build public awareness and enthusiasm about brain research, including establishing clear links to daily living. We can collaborate with initiatives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week and use the recent “Neuroscience Core Concepts” materials developed by the Society for Neuroscience to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of standards and clear definitions is very confusing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

Think about this: How can anyone take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which seem to contradict each other?

Do supplements improve memory? Do you need both physical and mental exercise or is one of them enough? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

We tried to address these questions, and many others, in our recent book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain FitnessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (182 pages, $24.95), that we presented at Games for Health Conference last week. The book is the result of over two years of extensive research including more than a hundred interviews with scientists, professionals and consumers, and a deep review of the scientific literature, led by neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg and myself with the help of cognitive scientist Pascale Michelon. As we wrote in the Introduction, what we wanted to do first of all was to debunks these 10 myths on brain health and brain training:

Myth 1. Genes determine the fate of our brains.
Facts: Lifelong neuroplasticity allows our lifestyles and actions to play a meaningful role in how our brains physically evolve, especially given longer life expectancy.

Myth 2. Aging means automatic decline.
Facts: There is nothing inherently fixed in the precise trajectory of how brain functions evolve as we age.

Myth 3. Medication is the main hope for cognitive enhancement.
Facts: Non-invasive interventions can have comparable and more durable effects, side effect-free.

Myth 4. We will soon have a Magic Pill or General Solution to solve all our cognitive challenges.
Facts: A multi-pronged approach is recommended, centered around nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise.

Myth 5. There is only one “Use It or Lose it”.
Facts: The brain is composed of a number of specialized units. Our life and productivity depend on a variety of brain functions, not just one.

Myth 6. All brain activities or exercises are equal.
Facts: Varied and targeted exercises are the necessary ingredients in brain training so that a wide range of brain functions can be stimulated.

Myth 7. There is only one way to train your brain.
Facts: Brain functions can be impacted in a number of ways: through meditation, cognitive therapy, cognitive training.

Myth 8. We all have something called “Brain Age”.
Facts: Brain age is a fiction. No two individuals have the same brain or expression of brain functions.

Myth 9. That “brain age”‚ can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain training can improve specific brain functions, but, with research available today, cannot be said to roll back one “brain age”‚ by a number of years.

Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain training.
Facts: As in physical fitness, users must ask themselves: What functions do I need to improve on? In what timeframe? What is my budget?

Do you have other myths in mind you would like  us to address?

We have started to receive great feedback from the healthcare community, such as this email from a neurosurgeon in Texas:

“I really like the book, it is comprehensive without being too technical. I have recommended it to several patients. There are some other books that I expected would be greeted with enthusiasm, but were too complex for most of my patients. I think this book is right in the sweet spot”.

A short, sweet, entertaining read of a complex topic, with timely (written in 1/09) reviews of 21 top technology products, as well as informed and expert predictions of where this burgeoning brain-fitness field is headed. More importantly, after you read it, you’ll have a good, detailed sense of where you, personally, can act to improve your own couch-potato brain – and how to keep it fit and flexible your whole life. The SharpBrains Guide To Brain Fitness reminds of us all why books (and not just googling a topic) can be well worth your time and money. Two Stethoscopes Up – check it out. life.”

And this great book review by an Internist Physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Potato?:

Doc Gurley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (available via Amazon.com Here, review copies available upon request).

Description: While most of us have heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” very few understand what it means, or how to properly ‚“use it”‚¬ in order to maintain brain function and fitness. The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness is an invaluable guide that helps readers navigate growing brain research and identify the lifestyle factors and products that contribute to brain health and fitness. By gathering insights from eighteen of the world’s top scientists and offering tools and detailed descriptions of over twenty products, this book is an essential guide to the field of brain fitness, neuroplasticity and cognitive health. An accessible and thought-provoking read, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness educates lifelong learners and professionals in healthcare, education, business, etc., on emerging trends and forecasts of what the future will hold.

Products Reviewed (we reviewed scientific studies published before January 2009, when the manuscript text was closed):

– Overall brain maintenance: Brain Age series (Nintendo), BrainWare Safari (Learning Enhancement Corporation), FitBrains.com (Vivity Labs), Happy-Neuron.com (Scientific Brain Training), Lumosity.com (Lumos Labs), MindFit (CogniFit), (m)Power (Dakim)

– Targeted brain workout: Classic and InSight (Posit Science), Working Memory Training JM and RM (Cogmed), DriveFit (CogniFit), Earobics (Houghton Mifflin), Fast ForWord (Scientific Learning), IntelliGym (Applied Cognitive Engineering), Vision Restpration Therapy (NovaVision)

– Emotional self-regulation: emWave PC and Personal Stress Reliever (HeartMath), Journey to the Wild Divine (Wild Divine), RESPeRATE (InterCure), StressEraser (Helicor)

Learn more & Register today at early-bird rates

2016 SharpBrains Virtual Summit: Reinventing Brain Health

About SharpBrains

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