Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Games to Test Your Memory

Ready to see how well you can remember random words or, more difficult, names?

Click here to test your brain.

You will also be able to check your mental speed with a reaction time test. All 3 exercises will give you an idea of where you are at compared to other people of the same age.

To improve your performance, you may want to read this post before trying the games: How can I improve concentration and memory?

Enjoy. Hope your brain surprises you!

Brain Games for the Weekend: One for each Cognitive Ability

When I give a presentation about brain health and fitness, there are always a few people who come tell me afterward that they do crossword puzzles everyday. They heard that mental exercise is good for the brain so they are pleased and proud to report that they do the best they can to maintain their brain functions. But are they really? What if I was a gym instructor? Would the same people tell me proudly that to keep their whole body in shape they do biceps movements everyday, and that’s all they do? I DO feel like I was this gym instructor when I hear the crossword puzzles claim! Solving crossword puzzles repetitively is not the best habit for two reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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