Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Work as a Brain Fitness Program

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There is one type of “brain fitness program” which is not only free but also pays you back. You guessed it, that program is your “job”. Our occupations can provide beneficial mental exercise if they incorporate the key ingredients of novelty, variety, and challenge, and are not a source of chronic stress.

We start today’s newsletter with two articles related to the brain value of having mentally stimulating jobs.

Your Brain At Work

Your Brain At Work Brochure: Aren’t “talent” and “human capital” all about brain fitness and cognitive performance, really? Individuals and Human Resources departments can access excellent cognitive fitness tips, an action plan, and a great brochure provided by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and the Conference Board for our readers.

ABC Reporter Bob Woodruff’s Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury: Former US presidential contender and Senator John Edwards recently granted an interview to reporter Bob Woodruff. The most remarkable aspect of the interview? Bob Woodruff’s spectacular recovery from the traumatic brain injury he suffered in Iraq 2 years ago. You can’t miss this interview with his wife Lee, where we discuss Bob’s recovery process (including making a documentary, co-writing a book and other projects at ABC), the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and the overall challenge of cognitive rehabilitation following traumatic brain injuries.

Research

Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s “Recollections of My Life”: Remarkable and candid views on neuroplasticity, learning, aging and life, straight from the autobiography of one of the founders of modern neuroscience, who once said “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain.”

Can food improve brain health?: Dr. Pascale Michelon provides an overview of the effects of food on the brain, building on Fernando Gomez-Pinilla’s recent study in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Candidates for “brainy” foods contain: Omega-3 fatty acid, folic acid, flavonoids, anti-oxidant foods. Please note her warning, though: most of the studies showing positive effects have been conducted in mice.

The biology of aging: A monthly virtual gathering of bloggers to discuss Biology of Aging topics including research, policy, lifestyle guidance, and open questions. We are aware that “aging” may not be the sexiest  of words in our vocabulary… unless you consider the most common alternative.

Technology

Brain Fitness Centers in Senior Housing – A Field in the Making: The American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) has released an Special Issue Brief prepared by SharpBrains to provide quality information on market trends, best practices by leading seniors housing and long-term care organizations, lessons from pilot studies, navigational guidance, and more. If you are a professional or executive in the sector, please consider purchasing a copy.

The Future of Computer-assisted Cognitive Therapy: Cognitive therapy is one of the most researched types of brain training, especially in dealing with depression and anxiety. Why don’t more people benefit today from it? The lack of a scalable distribution model may perhaps explain that. We predict that technology will help complement the role of therapists, helping more people better cope with change, life, anxiety, and a range of cognitive and emotional challenges. Without any stigma. Just as naturally as one trains abdominal muscles today.

Brain Teaser
Games for the Brain: Quick, can you identify what is going on in these photographs?

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We hope you enjoyed this edition. As always, you are welcome to share these articles with friends, and to give us feedback, for extra brain workout.

Maximize the Cognitive Value of Your Mental Workout

Physical fitness. Cognitive/ brain fitness. Both require novelty, variety and challenge. Professor Schlomo Breznitz, a scientific and business leader in the cognitive fitness field, explains why, eloquently, below. Perhaps “we want change” really means “we need change”. Enjoy!

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Why are everyday life challenges not sufficient to keep our brains fit?

— By Prof. Shlomo Breznitz

Often, when describing the benefits of MindFit to brain health, I am asked by people in the audience whether this software is really needed. After all, so they argue, life provides continues cognitive challenges, which should suffice for ensuring brain fitness. From the moment we wake up until we go to sleep our brains have to attend to complex stimuli, plan many activities, some of them quite complex, and carry us through whatever the day offers. These tasks should provide sufficient “brain exercise” without the need to engage in specific mental workout.

This line of argument sounds oddly familiar, since it is an exact duplication of claims made in the recent past against the need for physical exercise. One jumps into the car and from the car and perhaps even climbs a few stairs before sitting in the chair, which should be enough to burn the calories and keep fit.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Brain Fitness Program DVD (Michael Merzenich)

The most popular question we got when we announced that PBS had a great special on Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity in December was, when will the DVD be available?

Well, finally here it comes. You can click on the image or the title to go over to PBS shop to learn more and buy it.

The Brain Fitness Program DVD ($24.95, shipped by 02/01/08). “This program presents a workout to help viewers get their brains in better shape. The Brain Fitness Program is based on neuro-plasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt — even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of scientists has developed computer-based stimulus sets that drive beneficial chemical, physical and functional changes in the brain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California San Francisco and his colleagues around the world have been leading this effort; he brings the research findings, along with a scientifically based set of brain exercises, to PBS viewers in this innovative and life-altering program. Peter Coyote narrates. ”

To purchase: click Here.

You can watch a 3-minute trailer: click here.

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Note: 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? Why is managing stress so important to attention and memory? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

SharpBrainsGuide_3DIf you have these questions, check out this new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:

“Finally, an insightful and complete overview of the science, products and trends to debunk old myths and help us all maintain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Gloria Cavanaugh, former President & CEO of the American Society on Aging and founding Board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving
Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association
“A masterful guide to the brain training revolution. Promises to stimulate a much needed conversation that will nudge society to build a new brain fitness culture on solid, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity @ PBS

Update (11/10/10): Have you seen PBS great specials on Brain Fitness and Neuroplasticity ?

The Brain Fitness Program DVD ($24.95)

“The Brain Fitness Program is based on the brain’s ability to change and adapt, even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of scientists has developed computer-based stimulus sets that drive beneficial chemical, physical and functional changes in the Peter Coyote Brain Fitness Programbrain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California and his colleagues share their scientifically based set of brain exercises in this life-altering program. Peter Coyote (pictured) narrates. ”

PBS aired in December 2007 a special program on neuroplasticity, brain fitness, aging and the brain titled “Brain Fitness Program”. To watch the 3-minute trailer: click here.

In 2008, PBS released a second DVD:

Brain Fitness 2: Sight and Sound DVD ($24.95)

“This program, specifically designed to help people get the most from their vision and hearing as they age, considers how these senses change throughout life and what people can do to keep them healthy and fully functional.”

.

If you do not have time to watch these great documentaries, here are a few points one needs to understand about neuroplasticity:

1.  The human brain is now con­sid­ered to be a highly dynamic and con­stantly reor­ga­niz­ing sys­tem capa­ble of being shaped and reshaped across an entire lifes­pan. It is believed that every expe­ri­ence alters the brain’s orga­ni­za­tion at some level. The key words in this new approach to the brain are neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity refers to the life­long capac­ity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stim­u­la­tion of learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis is the abil­ity to cre­ate new neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons through­out a life­time. The lat­ter process is also referred to as synap­to­ge­n­e­sis. This new par­a­digm con­trasts with tra­di­tional ideas of the human brain being a fixed and essen­tially lim­ited sys­tem that only degrades with age.

2. As we age, the rate of change in the brain, or neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, declines but does not come to a halt. In addi­tion, we now know that new neu­rons can appear in cer­tain parts of the brain up until the day we die.

3. Brain plas­tic­ity is cru­cial fol­low­ing head injury. It is the one brain’s abil­ity that allows recovery. Brain plas­tic­ity is also the abil­ity that brain train­ing takes advan­tages of to try to slow down the aging process.

To read about evidence of neuroplasticity in the human brain take a look at Brain plasticity: How learning changes you brain

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Note: 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? Why is managing stress so important to attention and memory? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

If you have these questions, check out this new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:

“Finally, an insightful and complete overview of the science, products and trends to debunk old myths and help us all maintain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Gloria Cavanaugh, former President & CEO of the American Society on Aging and founding Board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving
“Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association

“A masterful guide to the brain training revolution. Promises to stimulate a much needed conversation that will nudge society to build a new brain fitness culture on solid, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com.
Print Edition, $24.95


SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com,
Kindle Edition, $9.99

Baby Boomers, Healthy Aging and Job Performance

There has been an interesting discussion about the issues related to the aging of the legal profession. Stephanie introduced us to the article “the Graying Bar: let’s not forget the ethics” by David Giacalone.

In short: statistics about the increasing ratio of lawyers over 70 in active practice, on the one hand, and the general incidence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, on the other, lead David to point out an increasing likelihood that some lawyers may be practicing in less than ideal conditions for their clients, beyond a reasonable “brain age”. The question then becomes: who and how can solve this problem, which is only going to grow given demographic trends?.

We are not legal experts, but would like to inform the debate by offering 10 considerations on healthy aging and job performance from a neuropsychological point of view, that apply to all occupations:

1- We should talk more about change than about decline, as Sharon Begley wrote recently in her great article on The Upside of Aging – WSJ.com (subscription required).

We discussed some of these effects with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, who wrote his great book The Wisdom Paradox precisely on this point, at The Executive Brain and How our Minds Can Grow Stronger.

2- Some skills improve as we age: In our “Exercising Our Brains” Classes, we typically explain how some areas typically improve as we age, such as self-regulation, emotional functioning and Wisdom (which means moving from Problem solving to Pattern recognition). As a lawyer accumulates more cases under his/ her belt, he or she develops an automatic “intuition” for solutions and strategies. As long as the environment doesn’t change too rapidly, this growing wisdom is very valuable.

3- …whereas, yes, others typically decline: Read the rest of this entry »

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