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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