Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this article belongs to the excellent May 2009 special issue on Augmenting Cognition at scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. The article, an industry overview, is reproduced here with authorization by the Frontiers Research Foundation)

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age

By Alvaro Fernandez

Groundbreaking cognitive neuroscience research has occurred over the last 20 years – without parallel growth of consumer awareness and appropriate professional dissemination. “Cognition” remains an elusive concept with unclear implications outside the research community.

Earlier this year, I presented a talk to health care professionals at the New York Academy of Medicine, titled “Brain Fitness Software: Helping Consumers Separate Hope from Hype”. I explained what computerized cognitive assessment and training tools can do (assess/enhance specific cognitive functions), what they cannot do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the current uncertainties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symptoms). At the same symposium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, provided guidance on why and how to screen for executive function deficits in the context of dementia.

I could perceive two emerging trends at the event: 1) “Augmenting Cognition” research is most commonly framed as a healthcare, often pharmacological topic, with the traditional cognitive bias in medicine of focusing on detection and treatment of disease, 2) In addition, there is a growing interest in non-invasive enhancement options and overall lifestyle issues. Research findings in Augmenting Cognition are only just beginning to reach the mainstream marketplace, mostly through healthcare channels. The opportunity is immense, but we will need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels.

In January 2009, we polled the 21,000 subscribers of SharpBrains’ market research eNewsletter to identify attitudes and behaviors towards the “brain fitness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a number of consumer surveys and focus groups to connect with a wider audience). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key questions we asked was, “What is the most important problem you see in the brain fitness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some examples of the survey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most important problems in the brain fitness field

Public awareness (39%): “To get people to understand that heredity alone does not decide brain functioning”. We need to ramp up efforts to build public awareness and enthusiasm about brain research, including establishing clear links to daily living. We can collaborate with initiatives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week and use the recent “Neuroscience Core Concepts” materials developed by the Society for Neuroscience to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of standards and clear definitions is very confusing, and Read the rest of this entry »

The Overflowing Brain: Most Important Book of 2008

We have tracked for several years the scientific studies published by Torkel Klingberg and colleagues, often wondering aloud, “when will educators, health professionals, executives and mainstream society come to appreciate the potential we have in front of  us to enhance our brains and improve our cognitive functions?”

Dr. Klingberg has just published a very stimulating the Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingsbergpopular science book, The Overflowing Brain, that should help in precisely that direction. Given the importance of the topic, and the quality of the book, we have named  The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory The SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008, and asked Dr. Klingberg to write a brief article to introduce his research and book to you. Below you have. Enjoy!

Research and Tools to Thrive in the Cognitive Age

By Dr. Torkel Klingberg

Do we all have attention deficits?

The information age has provided us with high technology which fills our days with an ever increasing amount of information and distraction. We are constantly flooded with on-the-go emails, phone calls, advertisements and text-messages and we try to cope with the increasing pace by multi tasking. A survey of workplaces in the United States found that the personnel were interrupted and distracted roughly every three minutes and that people working on a computer had on average eight windows open at the same time. There is no tendency for this to slow down; the amount and complexity of information continually increases

The most pressing concerns with this environment are: how do we deal with the daily influx of information that our inundated mental capacities are faced with? At what point does our stone-age brain become insufficient? Will we be able to train our brains effectively to increase brain capacity in order to Read the rest of this entry »

What You Can do to Improve Memory (and Why It Deteriorates in Old Age)

After about age 50, most people begin to experience a decline in memory capability. Why is that? One obvious answer is that the small arteries of the brain begin to clog up, often as a result of a lifetime of eating the wrong things and a lack of exercise. If that lifetime has been stressful, many neurons may have been killed by stress hormones. Given theImprove Memory Bill Klemm most recent scientific literature, reviewed in my book Thank You, Brain, For All You Remember. What You Forgot Was My Fault, dead neurons can’t be replaced, except in the hippocampus, which is fortunate for memory because the hippocampus is essential for making certain kinds of memories permanent. Another cause is incipient Alzheimer’s disease; autopsies show that many people have the lesions of the disease but have never shown symptoms, presumably because a lifetime of exceptional mental activity has built up a “cognitive reserve.

So is there anything you can do about it besides exercise like crazy, eat healthy foods that you don’t like all that much, pop your statin pills, and take up yoga?

Yes. In short: focus, focus, focus.

Changing thinking styles can help. Research shows that Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Update: Use It and Improve It

Here you are have the bi-monthly update with our 10 most Popular blog posts. (Also, remember that you can subscribe to receive our RSS feed, or to our newsletter, at the top of this page, if you want to receive this digest by email).Crossword Puzzles Brain fitness

In this edition of our newsletter we bring a few articles and recent news pieces that shed light on what “Use It or Lose It” means, and why we can start going beyond that to say “Use It and Improve It.”

The Neuron, The Brain, and Thinking Smarter

Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Training Clinical Trial: Seeking Older Adults

fmri.jpgNeuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (see our previous interview with Yaakov Stern on the Cognitive Reserve) have asked for help in recruiting volunteers for an exciting clinical trial. If you are based in New York City, and between the ages of 60 and 75, please consider joining this study.

More information below:


Use it or Lose it?

Train your Brain! Healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 75 living in NYC are invited to join a study of mental fitness training. Qualified individuals will play a scientifically-based video game in our laboratory, and will be tested to determine the effects on attention, memory, and cognitive performance.

You will earn up to $600 plus transportation costs if you complete the 3-month program.

This exciting study is being performed by the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center at Columbia University Medical Center.

If interested, contact us today: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain, Genetics, Medicine, Leadership, and more carnivals

Some of the blog carnivals, and other post collections, we have contributed to this week. Enjoy these collections of posts on a variety of topics, where we have added a cognitive neuroscience perspective.


Other good ones are Read the rest of this entry »

Mental Training for Gratitude and Altruism

Brandon Keim writes a nice post on The Future Science of Altruism at Wired Science Blog, based on an interview with Jordan Grafman, chief of cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Brandon provides good context saying that “Scientists, said Grafman, are understanding how our brains are shaped by culture and environment, and a mechanism of these changes may involve fluctuation in our genes themselves, which we’re only beginning to understand”. (more on this in our post Richard Dawkins and Alfred Nobel: beyond nature and nurture).

And gives us some very nice quotes from Dr. Grafman, including

  • “One of the ways we differentiate ourselves from other species is that we have a sense of future. We don’t have to have immediate gratification…. But how far can we go into the future? How much of our brain is aimed at doing that? […]”
  • “Other great apes have a frontal lobe, fairly well developed, but not nearly as well developed as our own. If you believe in Darwin and evolution, you argue that the area grew, and the neural architecture had to change in some way to accommodate the abilities associated with that behavior. There’s no doubt that didn’t occur overnight; probably a slow change, and it was one of the last areas of the brain to develop as well. It’s very recent evolutionary development that humans took full advantage of. What in the future? What in the brains can change?”
  • “The issue becomes — do we teach this? Train people to do this? Children tend to be selfish, and have to be taught to share.”

The UC Berkeley magazine Greater Good tries to answer that question with a series of articles on Gratitude. I especially enjoyed A Lesson in Thanks, described as Read the rest of this entry »

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