Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Cognitive stimulation is beneficial, even after diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

An inter­est­ing arti­cle in Nature Reviews last month reviewed sev­eral stud­ies show­ing that cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion can be ben­e­fi­cial even for indi­vid­u­als already diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease (Buschert et al., 2010).

The arti­cle shows that patients with mild-to-moderate demen­tia can ben­e­fit from a range of cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions: from train­ing of par­tially spared cog­ni­tive func­tions to train­ing on activ­i­ties of daily liv­ing. Results sug­gest that such inter­ven­tions can improve global cog­ni­tion, abil­i­ties of daily liv­ing and qual­ity of life in these patients.

Patients with moderate-to-severe demen­tia seem to ben­e­fit from gen­eral engage­ment in activ­i­ties that enhance cog­ni­tive and social func­tion­ing in a non-specific manner.

In gen­eral, for patients diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, the reviewed stud­ies sug­gest that pro­grams focus­ing on global cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion are more effec­tive than pro­grams that train spe­cific cog­ni­tive functions.

The oppo­site seems true for peo­ple diag­nosed with Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment (MCI). As you may remem­ber, MCI diag­no­sis is made upon objec­tive mem­ory deficits that do not inter­fere with activ­i­ties of daily liv­ing. 5 to 10% of peo­ple with MCI develop demen­tia within 1 year after being diagnosed.

It is inter­est­ing to see that the type of cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion one may ben­e­fit from changes over the years, depend­ing on one’s cog­ni­tive sta­tus. This shows once again that there is no gen­eral magic pill in terms of brain fit­ness: Some inter­ven­tions or pro­grams work because they meet the needs of some spe­cific indi­vid­u­als. No pro­gram can work for everybody.

Read the rest of this entry »

Walking increases brain volume and reduces risks of decline

In the lat­est issue of Neu­rol­ogy a study by Erick­son et al. (2010) sug­gests that walk­ing reg­u­larly can increase brain vol­ume and reduce the risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment.

The researchers stared with 2 mains facts:

They asked 2 questions:

  • Can phys­i­cal activ­ity assessed ear­lier pre­dict gray mat­ter vol­ume 9 years later?
  • Is greater gray mat­ter vol­ume asso­ci­ated with reduced risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment?

Read the rest of this entry »

Another victim of the BBC/Nature “brain training” experiment

Have you read the cover story of the New Sci­en­tist this week: Men­tal mus­cle: six ways to boost your brain?

The arti­cle, which includes good infor­ma­tion on brain food, the value of med­i­ta­tion, etc., starts by say­ing that: “Brain train­ing doesn’t work, but there are lots of other ways to give your grey mat­ter a quick boost.” Fur­ther in the arti­cle you can read “… brain train­ing soft­ware has now been con­signed to the shelf of tech­nolo­gies that failed to live up to expectations.”

Such claims are based on the one study widely pub­li­cized ear­lier this year: the BBC “brain train­ing” exper­i­ment, pub­lished by Owen et al. (2010) in Nature.

What hap­pened to the sci­en­tific rigor asso­ci­ated with the New Scientist?

As expressed in one of our pre­vi­ous posts: “Once more, claims seem to go beyond the sci­ence back­ing them up … except that in this case it is the researchers, not the devel­op­ers, who are respon­si­ble.” (See BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly).

Read our two pre­vi­ous posts to get to the heart of the BBC study and what it really means. As Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Zelin­ski explore the poten­tial sci­en­tific flaws of the study, they both point out that there are very promis­ing pub­lished exam­ples of brain train­ing method­olo­gies that seem to work.

BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Sci­en­tific cri­tique of BBC/ Nature Brain Train­ing Experiment

Brain Teaser: Test your mental rotation skills

Are you famil­iar with men­tal rota­tion? It refers to mov­ing things around in your head. It is one of the numer­ous visu­ospa­tial skills that we all have.

Let’s take an exam­ple. Can you pic­ture in your head an arrow point­ing to the right? Now, turn this arrow so it points to the left. Done? You have just per­formed a men­tal rota­tion. Although it is rare to con­sciously imag­ine objects mov­ing, peo­ple auto­mat­i­cally use this abil­ity when they read maps, use tools, play chess, arrange fur­ni­ture, drive in traf­fic, etc.

Men­tal rota­tion relies mostly on the pari­etal areas of your brain (yel­low sec­tion in the brain image above).

Here is a brain exer­cise to stim­u­late your men­tal rota­tion skills.

  • The top shape is your model.
  • Among the 3 shapes below the model, only one matches the model. To fig­ure out which one does you will prob­a­bly have to move the shapes around in your head.
  • Move the shapes from left to right or right to left but DO NOT FLIP them around.

First set

Sec­ond set

Third Set

To see the cor­rect answers click here: Read the rest of this entry »

Are mentally-stimulating activities good or bad for the brain? The true story.

With World Alzheimer’s Day com­ing up (Sept 21st), it seemed impor­tant to make sense of the sci­en­tific study pub­lished this month that has trig­gered head­lines claim­ing that “Doing puz­zles could speed up demen­tia”, “Brain Exer­cise may worsen exist­ing Alzheimer’s” and even explain­ing to read­ers “Why you shouldn’t play men­tally stim­u­lat­ing games”.

What is the mat­ter?  Pre­vi­ous stud­ies had shown it to be quite clear that peo­ple who lead a men­tally or cog­ni­tively stim­u­lat­ing life also tend to:

a) ben­e­fit from improved think­ing and over­all cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing (delayed cog­ni­tive decline)

b) have reduced risks of man­i­fest­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease symptoms

The new study, pub­lished in Neu­rol­ogy by Dr. Wil­son from the Rush Alzheimer’s Dis­ease Cen­ter fol­lowed more than 2,000 indi­vid­u­als 65 and over for 12 years. How often they par­tic­i­pated in cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties such as read­ing (book, mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers), play­ing games (cards, cross­words, etc.), watch­ing TV and going to a museum was first assessed. Each indi­vid­ual received a score on this cog­ni­tive activ­ity scale. Six years later clin­i­cal eval­u­a­tion was con­ducted to deter­mine who was still highly func­tion­ing (all indi­vid­u­als started demen­tia free), who was suf­fer­ing from mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment and who had Alzheimer Dis­ease.  The cog­ni­tive decline of indi­vid­u­als in these three cat­e­gories (1,157 par­tic­i­pants total) was then assessed over an aver­age of 6 years.

This study is dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous ones show­ing that healthy peo­ple who are cog­ni­tively active have lower risks of devel­op­ing demen­tia for one major rea­son: It assessed the fate of cog­ni­tively active indi­vid­u­als who have been diag­nosed with dementia.

This stresses an impor­tant point: cog­ni­tive activ­ity helps delay the emer­gence of demen­tia but doesn’t pre­vent it completely.

The results of the study con­firmed that Read the rest of this entry »

New Report Finds A Brain Health Revolution in the Making, Driven by Digital Technology and Neuroplasticity Research

2010MarketReportIn spite of the recent eco­nomic down­turn, rev­enues for dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies to assess, enhance and treat cog­ni­tion, or dig­i­tal brain health and fit­ness tools, grew 35% in 2009. “The con­ver­gence of demo­graphic and pol­icy trends with cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science dis­cov­er­ies and tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion is giv­ing birth to a nascent mar­ket­place that can fun­da­men­tally trans­form what brain health is, how it is mea­sured, and how it is done,” says Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, mem­ber of the World Eco­nomic Forum’s Coun­cil on the Aging Soci­ety and Editor-in-Chief of the report. “This ground­break­ing report can help pio­neers shape the emerg­ing toolkit to ben­e­fit an aging soci­ety that increas­ingly seeks new ways to enhance cog­ni­tive func­tion­al­ity and men­tal well­ness across the lifespan.”

As the brain is thrust into the cen­ter of the health­care ecosys­tem, inno­v­a­tive cog­ni­tive health and brain fit­ness appli­ca­tions will play an increas­ingly impor­tant role in defin­ing neu­ro­cen­tric health,” adds Jake Duna­gan, Research Direc­tor at the Insti­tute For The Future.

Report: Trans­form­ing Brain Health with Dig­i­tal Tools to Assess, Enhance and Treat Cog­ni­tion across the Lifes­pan: The State of the Brain Fit­ness Mar­ket 2010.

A major­ity among the 1,900+ decision-makers and early-adopters sur­veyed said they trusted the effec­tive­ness of non-invasive options above inva­sive options to enhance crit­i­cal brain func­tion­al­ity. Pro­fes­sional and intel­lec­tual chal­lenges were rated very effec­tive by 61% of respon­dents, aer­o­bic exer­cise and read­ing books by 42%, med­i­ta­tion by 38%, com­put­er­ized brain train­ing by 26%, tak­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs by 13%, tak­ing sup­ple­ments by 12%, and self-medicating with drugs by 1%.

These are among the key find­ings of a 207-page mar­ket report released today by Sharp­Brains and pre­pared in col­lab­o­ra­tion with 24 lead­ing sci­en­tists and 10 inno­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions — the most com­pre­hen­sive such research study done to ana­lyze emerg­ing research, tech­nolo­gies and marketplace.

We must do for brain health in the 21st cen­tury what we largely accom­plished in car­dio­vas­cu­lar health in the past cen­tury. It’s time to take sci­en­tific insights out of the lab and to iden­tify prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions, mak­ing the main­te­nance of good brain fit­ness a pub­lic health pri­or­ity,” indi­cates William Reich­man, MD, Pres­i­dent and CEO of Baycrest.

Other Report High­lights are: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain teasers and games: ready for a mental workout?

You may have already seen that our Teasers sec­tion con­tains not only our selec­tion of Top 50 Brain Teasers and Games, but also a reg­u­larly updated page with lat­est Games for the Brain.

Below you have the brain games and teasers we have added in 2008 so far. Ready? brain teasers job interview
– Octo­ber 2008: Top Brainy Haikus. Yours?.

- Sep­tem­ber 2008: What is going on with these pictures?.

- Sep­tem­ber 2008: 7 Brain­teasers for Job Interviews.

- August 2008: Can you use men­tal self rota­tion to read a map?.

- August 2008: Spot the Dif­fer­ences! how many are there?.

- July 2008 Read the rest of this entry »

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