Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Training: It Works, and It Doesn’t Work

The IMPACT study which we reported on in December 2007, funded by Posit Science, conducted by the Mayo Clinic and USC Davis, has just announced publication at the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Reference:

– Smith et al. A Cognitive Training Program Designed Based on Principles of Brain Plasticity: Results from the Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 2009.

Computer Exercises Improve Memory And Attention, Study Suggests (Science Daily)

– “The Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training (IMPACT) study was funded by the Posit Science Corporation, which owns the rights to the Brain Fitness Program, tested in the study.”

– “Of the 487 healthy adults over the age of 65 who participated in a randomized controlled trial, half used the Brain Fitness Program for 40 hours over the course of eight weeks. The Brain Fitness Program consists of six audio exercises done on a computer, and is intended to “retrain the brain to discriminate fine distinctions in sound, and do it in a way that keeps the user engaged,” Zelinski explained.” The other half of participants spent an equal amount of time learning from educational DVDs followed by quizzes.

Comment: this is a very interesting study, in that it shows both that cognitive training works, and that it doesn’t work.

What do I mean? Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive screenings and Alzheimer’s Disease

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America just released a thoughtful report advocating for widespread cognitive screenings after the age of 65 (55 given the right conditions).

According to the press release,

– “The report shatters unsubstantiated criticism and instead emphasizes the safety and cost-effectiveness of these tools and calls on Congress to develop a national dementia screening policy.”

– “Lifting the barriers to early detection is long overdue, Hall said. “Conversations about brain health are not taking place. We must educate and empower consumers to talk openly about memory concerns, particularly with primary care providers, so they get the attention and quality of life they deserve.

– “Demand for screenings is evidenced by the success of AFA’s recent sixth annual National Memory Screening Day held on November 18, during which an estimated 50,000 people were given free confidential memory screenings at nearly 2,200 community sites nationwide. During last year’s event, approximately 16 percent of individuals who had a face-to-face screening scored positive and were referred to their primary care providers for follow-up. An AFA survey of participants revealed that fewer than one in four with self-reported memory complaints had previously discussed them with their physicians despite recent visits.”

Excellent report available: here

Please note that the Alzheimer’s Association recently argued in the opposite direction (no screenings) – which probably triggered this response.

We see emerging trends that suggest the position in favor of cognitive assessments may in fact gather momentum over the next few years: widespread computerized cognitive screenings in the US Army, insurance companies like OptumHealth adding such tools to its clinical decision-making systems, polls such as the American Society of Aging’s a couple of years ago indicating a very strong demand for an “annual mental check-up”, the availability of useful assessment tools and research-based preventive advice.

The starting point is to understand what those assessments are NOT: they are not diagnostic tools. When used properly, they can be used as a baseline to track performance in a variety of cognitive domains over time, so that both the individual AND the physician are not blinded by a one-time assessment, comparing an individual with his or her peers (instead of his or her past performance) when serious symptoms have frequently already been going on for a while.

Our contributor  Dr. Joshua Silverman, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, recently generated a nice debate on the topic by asking our readers their reaction to these 3 questions: Read the rest of this entry »

Towards a Healthy Living & Cognitive Health Agenda

Here you have the November edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by brain fitness and health newslettersubmitting your email at the top of this page.

Thank you for your interest, attention and participation in our SharpBrains community. As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions.

Summit of the Global Agenda

How can we persuade business leaders, policy-makers and researchers of the urgency to develop and promote an integrated “Healthy Living” agenda focused on maintaining lifelong physical and cognitive health, vs. the usual mindset focused on dealing with specific diseases and problems once they arise?

In The Future of the Aging Society: Burden or Human Capital?, I summarize some of the key themes discussed at the World Economic Forum event in Dubai on November 7-9th. The world is aging – and in healthier ways. But our healthcare and retirement systems are on track to go bankrupt – their premises are outdated. The current disease-based research agenda compounds the problem. Solutions? 1) Promote Healthy Lifestyles that help Maintain Physical and Cognitive Functional Abilities, 2) Redesign Environments to Foster Health, Engagement and Financial Security, 3) Develop an Integrated Healthy Living & Aging Research Agenda. Specifically, we could work with the UN and Global 2000 companies to move forward a new agenda.

Planet Earth 2.0: A New Operating System: Imagine seeing a top sheik in Dubai, wrapped in traditional Arab clothing, exclaim “Yes We Can (a la Obama) in front of the 800 global experts, adding that “we build the future with our own hands. Some of the attendants of the World Economic Forum’s Summit of the Global Agenda urged us to “reboot” the system. More than a “reboot”, we may have to upgrade to a new global “Yes We Can” operating system.

Brain Fitness Research

Training Attention and Emotional Self-Regulation: Dr. Michael Posner, a prominent  cognitive neuroscientist and first recipient of the Dogan Prize, grants us a fascinating interview on what attention, self-regulation, and effortful control are, and how to improve them using software, meditation, and parenting. In his words, “we have found no ceiling for abilities such as attention, including among adults. The more training (…) the higher the results.”

Neuroplasticity and the Brain That Changes Itself: Laurie Bartels reviews the excellent book by Norman Doidge, explaining that “the neuroscience behind Doidge’s book involves neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself. This means that the brain  is our intelligence,  is not something fixed in concrete but rather a changing, learning entity.”

Can We Pick Your Brain re: Cognitive Assessments?: In our view, a critical component in the maturity of the brain fitness market will be the availability of inexpensive, valid and reliable objective cognitive assessments,  to help measure how our brain functions change over time and identify priorities for targeted improvements. Dr. Joshua Steinerman asks if you would be up for them?

Use It (Properly) or Lose It

Memory Problems? Perhaps you are Multi-tasking: Dr. Bill Klemm tells us that “Multi-tasking violates everything we know about how memory works.” He explains that “(multi-tasking) probably does make learning less tedious, but it clearly makes learning less efficient and less effective.”

Physical and mental exercise to prevent cognitive decline: The American Medical News, a weekly newspaper for physicians published by the American Medical Association, just published an excellent article on the importance of physical and mental exercise. We are very happy to see efforts like these to train physicians and health professionals in general,  given that most of them were trained under a very different understanding of the brain than the one we have today.

Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound: PBS recently announced the second installment of their popular Brain Fitness Program show, to start airing soon.

MetaCarnival #1: a conversation across the blogosphere: We often insist on “Novelty, Variety and Challenge” as key ingredients for good “brain exercise”. There are many ways to mix those ingredients – you may enjoy this one, the first interdisciplinary gathering of blogs and blog carnivals covering health, science, anthropology, general advice and more.

Brain Teasers

Top 15 Brain Teasers and Games for Mental Exercise: Over the last 2 years we have published close to 100 puzzles, teasers, riddles, and every kind of mental exercise (without counting our in-depth interviews with top neuroscientists). Which ones have proven most stimulating for you. Let us know. Here is a selection of our Top 15 teasers.

Final Details

That’s all for now. Next month, we will be offering another great selection of articles: Dr. Andrew Newberg will discuss the brain value of meditation,  Dr. David Rabiner will review a recent study on how neurofeedback may assist in the diagnostic of attention deficits, and much more.

Please share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues if you haven’t done so already.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound, at PBS

PBS recently announced the second installment of their popular Brain Fitness Program show, and released this trailer via YouTube:

Watch: Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound (2:30)

Description: Join host Peter Coyote in “Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound,” the follow-up to “The Brain Fitness Program,” as he explores the brain’s ability to change and grow, even as we age, helping us maintain and improve our vision and hearing.

“Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound” is a special in-depth look at the advances in neuroplasticity and how it relates to healthy aging, with a particular focus on making the most of information filtered through our eyes and ears. Check your local listings to catch it, beginning in December 2008. Your brain will thank you. Help PBS continue to offer all Americans; from every walk of life; the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. To donate, please visit http://www.pbs.org/support

Schedule: You can check the schedule for the program by city Here.

And Here you have some information on the first show Read the rest of this entry »

Can We Pick Your Brain re. Cognitive Assessments?

If you could, you would. You can, but prefer not to know it?

More than any other organ, your brain is up to you. You are what you think, not just what you eat. Here’s some food for thought:

Design your Mind

Setting cognitive and behavioral goals raises challenging and worthy questions: What do you want from your brain? Will you know it when you achieve it?

To attain the brain of our choosing, we must understand our selves and current abilities. Introspection and curiosity are helpful if they trigger and sustain the effort to enrich the mind. However, objective information which leads to informed assessment of brain function is often lacking.

Mind your Brain

Honesty. Openness. Self-awareness.

Irrefutable virtues, but in practice most people fall short. Few regularly appraise their brain skills; even so, the ability to accurately judge one’s own mental performance is not guaranteed. I believe the first step to minding the brain is shedding hang-ups while offering and soliciting frank feedback from family and close confidants. In the clinical setting, routine cognitive screening and “mental check ups” are not currently practiced, in part due to time constraints and limited utility of traditional paper-and-pencil tests. From a public health perspective, the U.S. Preventative Task Force reviewed Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Blogs and Michael Merzenich

Two quick notes:

– Encephalon #56 edition: the latest edition of this neuroscience and psychology blog carnival is ready for your reading pleasure.
– Michael Merzenich Elected to Institute of Medicine: Congratulations! “The Institute of Medicine’s total active membership is now 1,576 and the number of foreign associates is 89. With another 71 members holding emeritus status, IOM’s total membership is now 1,736. Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine is a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on issues related to human health. With their election, members make a commitment to devote a significant amount of volunteer time as members of IOM study committees.”
You may have seen him talking about neuroplasticity in the PBS special titled Brain Fitness Program.

Newsletter: Navigating Games for Health and Education

Here you have the twice-a-month newsletter with our most popular blog posts. Please brain fitness and health newsletterremember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

Quick, Are videogames good or bad?

That’s an impossible question. Good or bad for what? What  specific games are we talking about? More importantly, what are they substituting for, given time is a limited resource?  Contributor Jeremy Adam Smith, managing director of Greater Good magazine, offers an in-depth review on the trade-offs videogames present in: Playing the Blame Game.

News Round-Up

Math Innovation in UK Schools: a recent (and unpublished) study seems to support the potential role for “Serious Games” in education. Learning and Teaching Scotland reports significant improvements in pupils’ concentration and behavior, on top of math skills, after using Nintendo Brain Training game.

Alzheimer’s Australia endorses Posit Science programs: this announcement brings to surface a genuine public health dilemma – do you, as an association, promote programs before they have been shown to have long-term effects on Alzheimer’s progression and prevalence, or do you wait until you have “perfect” research, and then perhaps lose 10-20-30 years or useful contribution to thousands/ millions of brain’s Cognitive Reserves? In our judgment, it may well be worth offering options today, as long as they are accompanied by independent measurement of the cognitive benefits.

More September News: September has brought a wealth of additional worldwide media coverage on cognitive health and brain fitness topics, including the role of schools in nurturing student’s executive functions, the importance of baseline neuropsychological testing in sports, the need for gerontology as a discipline to incorporate brain research, how walking can enhance brain function, and the value of brain fitness programs for long-term care operators.

Resources for Brain Fitness Navigation

Wellness Coaching for Brain Health and Fitness: will Wellness Coaches expand their role and become “Brain coaches”? We have partnered with Sutter Health Partners, the pioneering coaching group of a major health system, to train their wellness coaches on the implications of emerging brain research for their work: focus on the 4 pillars of brain health -balanced nutrition, physical exercise, stress management and mental exercise.

Evaluation Checklist for Organizations: many healthcare and education organizations are already making purchase decisions which involve evaluating different programs that make “brain training” or “cognitive health” claims. Here we present our 10-Question SharpBrains Checklist to help organizations make informed decisions.

Evaluation Checklist for Consumers: if you are an individual interested in programs for yourself and/ or a loved one, you can use this checklist. The starting point is to recognize that no program is a “magic pill” or “general solution”, but a tool to be used in the appropriate context.

Learning to Lead, and To Think

Roundtable on Human Resources and Leadership: several bloggers discuss latest news around leadership, social intelligence, applications of brain research, and more.

Helping Young and Old Fish Learn How To Think: David Foster Wallace gave a masterful commencement speech on Life and Work to the 2005 graduating  class at Kenyon College.  Worth reading, with full attention.

Brain Teasers

Seven Brain teasers for Job Interviews: A recent CNN article explains why a growing number of technology and consulting companies use brain teasers and logic puzzles of a type called “guesstimations” during job interviews. What are they looking for? Good executive functions. Here you have a few typical questions.

Enjoy!

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