Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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

(Editor’s note: this arti­cle belongs to the excel­lent May 2009 spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting CognitionCog­ni­tion of sci­en­tific jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science, Vol­ume 3, Issue 1. You can order this issue, for 50 euros, here. Highly rec­om­mended for sci­en­tists and tech­ni­cal read­ers inter­ested in the sci­ence. This 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:

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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.

Favorites:

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 »

New market report on Pervasive Neurotechnology & Intellectual Property

Haven’t you read this book yet?

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