Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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?

Resources

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.

News

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 »

Brain News: Lifelong Learning for Cognitive Health

Here you have the March edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health Brain Fitnessand brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page. I know I am biased – but do believe this Newsletter issue might well be our best so far. I hope you find the time to enjoy it!

Bird’s Eye View

Top Articles and Resources in March: Highlights – a) great articles in SciAm Mind and the Wall Street Journal, b) new resources (book and free DVD) by the Dana Foundation, c) research studies on how our cognitive abilities tend to evolve as we age, the impact of physical exercise on the brain, the lack of long-term effectiveness of ADHD drugs, and how working memory training may benefit math performance.

Brain Fitness Survey: Over 2,000 thoughtful responses to our January survey (Thank You!) reinforce the need for public awareness initiatives and quality information to help evaluate and navigate lifestyle and product claims, as well as the need for more research, an expanded healthcare culture, as more. Given this context, we are publishing The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness in May 2009, a book with 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, in addition to our annual market report for professionals and executives (to be published in April). If you have ideas to help us promote the book, please reply to this email and let us know!

Lifelong Learning

Elderhostel’s Marty Knowlton dies at 88: He helped launch Elderhostel, reinvented “aging”, “retirement” and “learning”, and contributed to the brain fitness of millions of individuals as a result.

MetLife Mature Market Institute Report: Gerontologist Fay Radding presents the findings of a recent MetLife report, concluding that “As individuals age, meaningful interactions and purposeful activity become even more valued and crucial to cognitive health- and cognitive health itself becomes more of a priority.”

Change Your Environment, Change Yourself: Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains in his recent book that, “The greatest enemy of change is routine. When we lapse into routine and operate on autopilot, we are no longer fully and actively conscious of what we’re doing and why. That is why some of the most fertile situations for personal growth those that occur within new environments are those that force us to exit our routines and actively master unfamiliar challenges.”

Food for Thought

Michael Merzenich: Brain Plasticity offers Hope for Everyone: Dr. Ginger Campbell recently interviewed Dr. Michael Merzenich. Podcast Quote: “Whatever you struggle with in a sense as it stems from your neurology, the inherent plasticity of the brain gives you a basis for improvement. This is a way underutilized and under-appreciated resource that well all have.”

Therapy vs. Medication, Conflicts of Interest, and Intimidation: What started as an academic dispute regarding disclosure of conflict of interest is now snowballing. Dr. Jonathan Leo criticized two important aspects of a recent a study published in JAMA that compared the efficacy of therapy vs. medication. JAMA editors then tried to intimidate Dr. Leo and his university. An investigation by the American Medical Association is under way.

ETech09 on Life Hacking and Brain Training: Here you have the presentation Alvaro Fernandez delivered at O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2009, a gathering of technology pioneers with a growing interest in science and biology topics.

Attention!

Distracted in the Workplace?: In a very-thoughtful 2-part interview (part 1 here, part 2 here), author Maggie Jackson challenges us to “First, question the values that venerate McThinking and undermine attention.”

New Study Supports Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promising findings from the first well-designed controlled trial on the effect of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD.

Twitter

Finally, I wanted to let you know that you can follow quick SharpBrains updates and some of my thoughts via Twitter: http://twitter.com/AlvaroF

Have a great National Car Care Month in April! (now, wouldn’t you please pay at least equal attention to Brain Care than to Car Care?)

Brain Health News: Top Articles and Resources in March

There’s such a flood of very significant research studies, educational resources and articles related to brain health, it’s hard to keep track – even for us!

Let me introduce and quote some of the top Brain Health Studies, Articles and Resources published in March:

1) Cognitive Decline Begins In Late 20s, Study Suggests (Science Daily)

– “These patterns suggest that some types of mental flexibility decrease relatively early in adulthood, but that how much knowledge one has, and the effectiveness of integrating it with one’s abilities, may increase throughout all of adulthood if there are no pathological diseases,” Salthouse said.

– However, Salthouse points out that there is a great deal of variance from person to person

2) Cerebrum 2009: Emerging Ideas in Brain Science – new book by the Dana Foundation that “explores the cutting edge of brain research and its implications in our everyday lives, in language understandable to the general reader.”

A couple of excellent chapters of direct relevance to everyone’s brain health are:
– Chapter 4: A Road Paved by Reason, by Elizabeth Norton Lasley

– Chapter 10: Neural Health: Is It Facilitated by Work Force Participation?, by Denise Park, Ph.D

3) Staying Sharp DVD Program: “Dr. Jordan Grafman, chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke outside of Washington, DC, and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, is your guide as we cover what to expect from the aging brain and what we can do to ‘stay sharp.’

For a free DVD of this program you can contact stayingsharp@dana.org. (they say free in their website, I don’t know if that includes shipping & handling)

4) Drivers to be tested on cognitive ability starting at age 75 (Japan Times)

The outline of a cognitive test that drivers aged 75 or over will be required to take from June when renewing their licenses was released Thursday…The test is intended to reduce the number of traffic accidents involving elderly drivers by measuring their cognitive level.

5) Physical Fitness Improves Spatial Memory, Increases Size Of Brain Structure (Science Daily)

– “Now researchers have found that elderly adults who are more physically fit tend to have bigger hippocampi and better spatial memory than those who are less fit.”

6) Brain Trainers: A Workout for the Mind (Scientific American Mind)

“I recently tried out eight of the latest brain fitness programs, training with each for a week. The programs ranged widely in focus, quality and how fun they were to use. “Like physical exercise equipment, a brain exercise program doesn’t do you any good if you don’t use it, says Andrew J. Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University. And people tend not to use boring equipment. “I remember when NordicTrack was the biggest thing out there. Everyone ran out and bought one, and 90 percent of them ended up as a clothes rack in the back of your bedroom.

The reporter used: Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Program Classic, HappyNeuron, Nintendo BrainAge, CogniFit’s MindFit/ CogniFit Personal Coach, Lumosity, MyBrainTrainer, BrainTwister, Cogmed Working Memory Training.

7) The Latest in Mental Health: Working Out at the ‘Brain Gym’ (Wall Street Journal)

– “Marshall Kahn, an 82-year-old family doctor in Fullerton, Calif., says he got such a boost from brain exercises he started doing at a “Nifty after Fifty” club that he decided to start seeing patients again part-time. “Doing all the mental exercise,” he says, “I realized I’ve still got it.”

8) Debate Over Drugs For ADHD Reignites (Washington Post)

– “New data from a large federal study have reignited a debate over the effectiveness of long-term drug treatment of children with hyperactivity or attention-deficit disorder, and have drawn accusations that some members of the research team have sought to play down evidence that medications do little good beyond 24 months.”

– “The study also indicated that long-term use of the drugs can stunt children’s growth.”

8) Adaptive training leads to sustained enhancement of poor working memory in children (Developmental Science)

Abstract: Working memory plays a crucial role in supporting learning, with poor progress in reading and mathematics characterizing children with low memory skills. This study investigated whether these problems can be overcome by a training program designed to boost working memory. Children with low working memory skills were assessed on measures of working memory, IQ and academic attainment before and after training on either adaptive or non-adaptive versions of the program. Adaptive training that taxed working memory to its limits was associated with substantial and sustained gains in working memory, with age-appropriate levels achieved by the majority of children. Mathematical ability also improved significantly 6 months following adaptive training. These findings indicate that common impairments in working memory and associated learning difficulties may be overcome with this behavioral treatment.

9) Brain cortex thinning linked to inherited depression (Los Angeles Times)

– “On average, people with a family history of depression appear to have brains that are 28% thinner in the right cortex — the outermost layer of the brain — than those with no known family history of the disease. That cortical thinning, said the researchers, is on a scale similar to that seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia.”

Update: Does Cognitive Training Work?

Here you have the February edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Brain FitnessNewsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

Cognitive training (or structured mental exercise) definitely seems to work – as long as we define properly what “work” means, don’t expect magic cures, and help navigate options. Please keep reading…

Interview: Baycrest

Interview with Baycrest’s CEO Dr. William Reichman: Discussing the recent Centre for Brain Fitness at Baycrest, Dr. Reichman suggests that “we have an opportunity to make major progress in Brain Health in the XXI century, similar to what happened with Cardiovascular Health in the XXth, and technology will play a crucial role.” A major obstacle? We need a consensus on “widely accepted standards for outcome measures”.

Does It Work?

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?): The growing field of cognitive training (one of the tools for brain fitness) can appear very confusing as the media keeps reporting contradictory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, without a deeper understanding of the scientific evidence. Dr. Pascale Michelon, SharpBrains’ Research Manager for Educational Initiatives, analyzes a couple of recent studies, clarifying what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

It Works, and It Doesn’t Work: the IMPACT study (a major, multi-site study on the Posit Science auditory program) will be published at the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in April. Results support that cognitive training works – but doesn’t support the grandiose “brain age” claims we see too often.

Cognitive Training can Influence Brain Biochemistry: Dr. David Rabiner discusses a recent scientific study that “shows that brain biochemistry can be modified by experience”, and that computerized cognitive training (Cogmed working memory training) can provide that experience.

The Big Picture

Making Healthy Choices – Primare Care and Prevention: a panel at the recent World Economic Forum explored why “New markets and industries are arising silver industries such as financial services, health, housing and hospitality geared to senior citizens. Longevity needs to be linked to health including cognitive health and lifestyle choices play a major role in health.”

Enrich your environment now and benefit your future offspring: Dr. Robert Sylwester reports that “all sorts of long held-beliefs about our brain and cognition are being re- examined by cognitive neuroscientists” because of fascinating studies such as the one he reviews (with mice): “The study’s findings seemed to suggest that acquired characteristics can be genetically transmitted…long-term benefits accrue from a stimulating early environment that encourages curiosity and exploration.”

Managing Emotions

From Distress to De-Stress: helping anxious, worried kids: In a detailed 2-part article, (Part 1, Part 2), Dr. Jerome Schultz provides great tips on how to help children learn to self-regulate emotions, adding that “Teachers, occupational therapists, physical education teachers and parents need to actually teach children (of all ages) how to get themselves into a physical state of being relaxed. This doesn’t happen automatically. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many adult yoga classes!”

Lie to Me, Paul Ekman and Biofeedback: You may have watched the new series Lie To Me, with Tim Roth, based on the work of Paul Ekman. The introduction to the second episode shows why what are called “lie detectors” are nothing but biofeedback systems that measure physiological anxiety.

News

Brain Games for Baby Boomers: round-up of other recent news, covering the effects of gaming, cognitive training for driving skills, and brain fitness classes.

Neurocognitive assessments and sports concussions: a new study and a new resource to understand and address the 1.6 to 3.8 million cases of sports-related concussions that occur annually in the United States.

Brain Teaser

How will you, your organization, your neighbors, participate in Brain Awareness Week, March 16th-22nd, organized by the Dana Foundation with the participation of thousands of outreach partners, including SharpBrains? You can find event ideas, excellent resources (yes, including puzzles), and a calendar of events, Here.

Have a great month of March!

Your Brain At Work, by the Dana Alliance and The Conference Board

Several months ago we came across an excellent resource for cognitive/ brain fitness aimed at helping companies offer quality brain health information to their employees.

While it is true that we often tend to believe all this “brain fitness” stuff is most relevant to our parents and/ or grandparents, trust me, if you are reading this, you need it. Everyone with a brain can benefit from learning about how his or her brain works and how to maintain it with proper care.

And, from a company’s point of view, aren’t “talent” and “human capital” really all about brain fitness and cognitive performance?

Your Brain At Work - Dana Foundation and the Conference BoardThe Conference Board and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (descriptions below) published in 2008 a 44-page booklet to “teach simple, practical strategies for incorporating brain-friendly practices into day-to-day life”.  Your Brain at work: Making the science of cognitive fitness to work for you is the first of three planned booklets on cognitive fitness.

The Conference Board and the Dana Alliance have allowed SharpBrains to share the following Action Plan with our readers, straight from Your Brain at work brochure. At the bottom of this post we also share instructions on how individuals and companies can get their own copies of this excellent brochure. Read the rest of this entry »

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