Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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 »

Do You Mind?

Ask your­self the tough ques­tions: Do you mind your brain? Do you know your nog­gin’? Can you claim cere­bral own­er­ship or is your men­tal a rental?

Although these ques­tions are rel­e­vant at vir­tu­ally all lifes­pan stages, firm answers can some­times appear incon­ceiv­able.  Unfor­tu­nately with advanc­ing age, atten­tion to men­tal per­for­mance is often either aban­doned or framed in terms of per­ceived impair­ment and decline.  Now, I have pre­vi­ously shared my mes­sage on mind­ing the aging brain with Sharp­Brains read­ers.  As a cog­ni­tive neu­ropsy­chi­a­trist pri­mar­ily inter­ested in later-life phe­nom­ena, I tend to stick to my area of exper­tise.  Nev­er­the­less, whether you are elder or not, I implore you to take these ideas to heart…do you mind?

Just as brain fit­ness is for all, aging is sim­i­larly uni­ver­sal.  Every thought­ful indi­vid­ual rec­og­nizes the unavoid­able answer to “are you aging?”  How­ever, the answer to “how are you aging?” is less obvi­ous to most, and is even more obscure when con­sid­er­ing lifes­pan cog­ni­tive tra­jec­to­ries.  In fact, no con­sen­sus lex­i­con yet exists to describe the ways in which cog­ni­tion can be mod­u­lated to achieve desired lifestyle or clin­i­cal goals.

In my lat­est pub­li­ca­tion on technology-enabled cog­ni­tive train­ing for healthy elders, I out­line a pro­posed lex­i­con for pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion inter­ven­tions, as well as a frame­work for clas­si­fy­ing puta­tive ben­e­fits of cog­ni­tive train­ing.  Here, I will present these con­cepts with­out regard to age, as they apply equally well to all sapi­ent sapi­ens:

?      Cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion refers to non­tar­geted engage­ment that gen­er­ally enhances men­tal func­tion­ing.  Exam­ples might include edu­ca­tional endeav­ors or life review.

?      Cog­ni­tive train­ing refers to theory-driven inter­ven­tion, Read the rest of this entry »

Promising Cognitive Training Studies for ADHD

As noted in our Mar­ket Report, we expect the field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (or “brain fit­ness”) soft­ware to grow in a vari­ety of edu­ca­tion and health-related areas over the next years. One of the most promis­ing areas in our view: help­ing chil­dren and adults with atten­tion deficits improve brain func­tion to reduce ADHD symptoms.

I am glad to present this in-depth dis­cus­sion on the results of two recent high-quality sci­en­tific stud­ies. Let me start with Dr. Rabiner’s conclusion:

Results from these two cog­ni­tive train­ing stud­ies high­light that cog­ni­tive train­ing inter­ven­tions may pro­vide an impor­tant com­ple­ment to tra­di­tional med­ica­tion treat­ment and behav­ior ther­apy. Both stud­ies included appro­pri­ate con­trol groups, employed ran­dom assign­ment, and had out­come mea­sures pro­vided by indi­vid­u­als who were “blind” to which con­di­tion chil­dren were assigned to. They are thus well-designed stud­ies from which sci­en­tif­i­cally sound con­clu­sions can be drawn. They add to the grow­ing research base that inten­sive prac­tice and train­ing focused of key cog­ni­tive skills can have pos­i­tive effects that extend beyond the train­ing sit­u­a­tion itself.”

With­out futher ado…enjoy the article!

- Alvaro


Two New Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Stud­ies for ADHD Yield Promis­ing Findings

– By Dr. David Rabiner

Although med­ica­tion treat­ment is effec­tive for many chil­dren with ADHD, there remains an impor­tant need to explore and develop inter­ven­tions that can com­ple­ment or even sub­sti­tute for med­ica­tion. This is true for a vari­ety of rea­sons including:

Read the rest of this entry » on Brain Fitness: Tree or Forest? pub­lished yes­ter­day a thought-provoking arti­cle focused on Posit Science’s Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, titled Buff Up Your Brain, that com­bined a) some pretty good analy­sis and great points about that spe­cific pro­gram and jus­ti­fi­able (to a point) crit­i­cism of the com­mer­cial tone of a recent PBS Spe­cial, with b) the error of con­fus­ing a tree with the for­est, that led the author to make sev­eral unwar­ranted claims regard­ing the field.

Com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing has been around since way before Posit Sci­ence, and will be here way beyond Posit Sci­ence (and Sharp­Brains, and, and their audi­tory pro­cess­ing product-featured in the PBS Spe­cial– is not, in our view, the most par­tic­u­larly impres­sive exam­ple. Well-directed cog­ni­tive exer­cise can enhance men­tal skills and trans­fer to real-life out­comes, act­ing as a good com­ple­men­tary tool, when used prop­erly, to other lifestyle options and tools.

Read the rest of this entry »

Improving Driving Skills and Brain Functioning– Interview with ACTIVE’s Jerri Edwards

Jerri Edwards- Active trialToday we are for­tu­nate to inter­view Dr. Jerri Edwards, an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Uni­ver­sity of South Florida’s School of Aging Stud­ies and Co-Investigator of the influ­en­cial ACTIVE study. Dr. Edwards was trained by Dr. Kar­lene K. Ball, and her research is aimed toward dis­cov­er­ing how cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be main­tained and even enhanced with advanc­ing age.

Main focus of research

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Please explain to our read­ers your main research areas

Jerri Edwards: I am par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in how cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions may help older adults to avoid or at least delay func­tional dif­fi­cul­ties and thereby main­tain their inde­pen­dence longer. Much of my work has focused on the func­tional abil­ity of dri­ving includ­ing assess­ing dri­ving fit­ness among older adults and reme­di­a­tion of cog­ni­tive decline that results in dri­ving difficulties.

Some research ques­tions that inter­est me include, how can we main­tain health­ier lives longer? How can train­ing improve cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, both to improve those abil­i­ties and also to slow-down, or delay, cog­ni­tive decline? The spe­cific cog­ni­tive abil­ity that I have stud­ied the most is pro­cess­ing speed, which is one of the cog­ni­tive skills that decline early on as we age.

ACTIVE results

Can you explain what cog­ni­tive pro­cess­ing speed is, and why it is rel­e­vant to our daily lives?

Pro­cess­ing speed is men­tal quick­ness. Just like a com­puter with a 486 proces­sor can do a lot of the same things as a com­puter with a Pen­tium 4 proces­sor, but it takes much longer, our minds tend to slow down with age as com­pared to when we were younger. We can do the same tasks, but it takes more time. Quick speed of pro­cess­ing is impor­tant for Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Enhancement, Aging Baby Boomers, and the Legal Profession

A quick note to alert you of two very inter­est­ing, grow­ing, and some­how linked debates:

1) Very insight­ful arti­cle on The Aging of the Baby Boomers: What Does It Mean for the Legal Pro­fes­sion (thank you, Stephanie!). Some quotes:

- “As I pen this arti­cle, it seems as though I’m writ­ing about some­one else the older worker. Age and aging, it seems, are in the eye of the one look­ing back at you in the mir­ror. I have this the­ory, espe­cially as it per­tains to men, that when we look in the mir­ror, we still see that 20 year-old stud who can leap tall build­ings. But I know that my ver­ti­cal leap is not what it used to be. The real­ity of aging in the legal pro­fes­sion is upon me and those of our generation.”

- “Also, the per­cep­tion of how old is old varies depend­ing on the job or pro­fes­sion. For exam­ple, Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Program: How to Evaluate and Choose One

The hol­i­days are approach­ing and you can expect many soft­ware and game devel­op­ers to adver­tise their prod­ucts SharpBrains Checklistaggres­sively, try­ing to get you buy their “brain train­ing” prod­ucts for you or as a gift for a loved one.

The good news is that there are more and more tools we can use to keep men­tally stim­u­lated and even train and improve spe­cific cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties (like pro­cess­ing speed, short-term mem­ory…). You may be read­ing about Nin­tendo Brain Age, Posit Sci­ence, Fast For­Word, Mind­Fit, Lumos­ity, Happy Neu­ron, MyBrain­Trainer, emWave, StressEraser and more. And, of course, there are also non-technology based interventions.

The bad news is that it is dif­fi­cult to sep­a­rate mar­ket­ing from sci­en­tific claims, and to under­stand which one, if any, may be a good com­ple­ment to other healthy lifestyle choices.

To help you nav­i­gate this process, we are pub­lish­ing the Sharp­Brains Check­list below, based on dozens of inter­views with sci­en­tists, experts and consumers:

10 Ques­tions to Choose the Right Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram for You (and a brief expla­na­tion of why each ques­tion is important)

* 1. Are there sci­en­tists, ide­ally neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists, and a sci­en­tific advi­sory board Read the rest of this entry »

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