Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Awareness Week Starts Today

Got a Brain?

If so, please join us in celebrating Brain Awareness Week (March 14-20th), the annual global campaign organized by the Dana Foundation to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.

Want to learn about activities in your area? Please visit BAW’s International Calendar of events.

Want to discuss professional implications from this research, cross-sector partnerships and industry opportunities? Consider registering for our very own BAW Partner event, the 2011 SharpBrains Summit (March 30th – April 1st).

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 »

Update: Is Grey the New Gold?

Here you have the June edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

The full schedule of the SharpBrains’ powered Cognitive Health Track at the Games for Health Conference, June 11-12th in Boston, is now available online. 13 sessions will feature 18 innovators and thought-leaders representing developers, universities, clinicians, consumers, insurance companies, and more. You can learn more and register.

Longevity Dividend

Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Grey is the New Gold: The Kronos Longevity Research Institute has released a new report summarizing the state of aging research that includes an excellent introduction into the Longevity Dividend, a “theory that says we hope to intervene scientifically to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related diseases. Delaying aging just seven years would slash rates of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in half.” With that context in mind, is the National Institute on Aging getting its fair budget share?


Visual Representation of the State of the Market 2009: Paul Van Slembrouck summarizes and beautifully presents the main findings of our 150-page market report, The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2009. Enjoy this excellent graphic.

Book Club Discussion Guide: The goal of our just published book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, is to inform you, but also to open a much needed debate to contribute to our collective brain fitness. We encourage book clubs to read and discuss the book, and suggest 10 questions to kickstart the conversation. Please do send us your answers and impressions!

Education & Learning

10% Students may have working memory problems: Why does this matter?: A recent study screened over 3,000 school-aged students in schools in the UK and found that 1 in 10 was identified as having working memory difficulties. Working memory is our ability to store and manipulate information for a brief time, and difficulties in this brain function may lead into difficulties in reading and mathematics. Dr. Tracy Alloway reviews the study and elaborates.

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts & Learning: Nicky Pentilla comments on a recent report sponsored by the Dana Foundation and a related Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit. “Arts education influences learning and other areas of cognition and may deserve a more prominent place in schools.” Of particular note is the finding that showed significant brain plasticity as a result of instrumental music instruction are repeated practice.

8 Tips To Remember What You Read: Despite television, cell phones, and  twitter, traditional reading is still an important skill. Dr. Bill Klemm offers some tips to read with good speed and comprehension: Read with a purpose, Skim first, Get the reading mechanics right, Be judicious in highlighting and note taking, Think in pictures, Rehearse as you go along, Stay within your attention span and work to increase your attention span, Practice.


Corporate Wellness, Cognitive Assessments and Memory Fitness Programs: a great MarketWatch article provides an overview of how major insurers and large employers are starting to add brain health to their corporate wellness activities.  The Stanford Longevity Center released a statement urging consumers who buy a range of memory products to make informed decisions (we released the book above precisely with that goal in mind).

Have a stimulating month of June!

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts, Learning

Arts education influences learning and other areas of cognition and may deserve a more prominent place in schools, according to a wave of recent neuroscience research.One recent study found that children who receive music instruction for just 15 months show strengthened connections in musically relevant brain areas and perform better on associated tasks, compared with students who do not learn an instrument.

A separate study found that children who receive training to improve their focus and attention perform better not only on attention tasks but also on intelligence tests. Some researchers suggest that arts training might similarly affect a wide range of cognitive domains. Educators and neuroscientists gathered recently in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to discuss the increasingly detailed picture of how arts education changes the brain, and how to translate that research to education policy and the classroom. Many participants referred to the results of Dana Foundation-funded research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities over three years, released in 2008.

“Art must do something to the mind and brain. What is that? How would we be able to detect that? asked Barry Gordon, a behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, who spoke May 8 during the “Learning and the Brain” conference in Washington, D.C. “Art, I submit to you without absolute proof, can improve the power of our minds. However, this improvement is hard to detect.”

Study links music, brain changes

Among the scientists trying to detect such improvement, Ellen Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, a professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, presented research at the “Learning, Arts, and the Brain summit May 6 in Baltimore. Their work measured, for the first time, changes to the brain as a result of music training.

For four years, Winner and Schlaug followed children ages 9 to 11, some of whom Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this article thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students’ test scores; others aren’t convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?

When poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, he used the occasion to deliver an impassioned argument for the value of the arts and arts education.

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.”

For years, arts advocates like Gioia have been making similar pleas, stressing the intangible benefits of the arts at a time when many Americans are preoccupied with a market–driven culture of entertainment, and schools are consumed with meeting federal standards. Art brings joy, these advocates say, or it evokes our humanity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daughter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bolstering the case for the arts has become increasingly necessary in recent years, as school budget cuts and the move toward standardized testing have profoundly threatened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the federal government started assessing school districts by their students’ scores on reading and mathematics tests.

As a result, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy, school districts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cutting spending on non–tested subjects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB standards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested subjects, with less going to the arts. The National Education Association has reported that the cuts fall hardest on schools with high numbers of minority children.

And the situation is likely to worsen as state budgets get even tighter. Already, in a round of federal education cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts education nationally was slashed by $35 million. In 2008, the New York City Department of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

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