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!)

(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 »

Update: Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation

As men­tioned before, the World Eco­nomic Forum asked me to write “an 800 words sum­mary of your most com­pelling action­able idea on the chal­lenges of geron­tol­ogy”, in prepa­ra­tion for the Inau­gural Sum­mit of the Global Agenda that will take place Novem­ber 7 to 9th in Dubai.A good num­ber of Sharp­Brains read­ers and clients offered their insights — and expressed an inter­est in read­ing the draft. So below you have — a pro­posal to cre­ate a Global Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Inno­va­tion, build­ing on our exist­ing mar­ket research and advi­sory ser­vices work. Your thoughts?


The Con­text

Grow­ing Demands on Our Brains: Pic­ture 6.7 bil­lion Prim­i­tive Brains inhab­it­ing a Knowl­edge Soci­ety where life­long learn­ing and mas­ter­ing con­stant change in com­plex envi­ron­ments are crit­i­cal for pro­duc­tive work, health and per­sonal fulfillment.

Wel­come to Planet Earth, 2008.

Fur­ther stretched by increased longevity: Now pic­ture close to 1 bil­lion of those brains over the age of 60 – and please remem­ber that, less than 100 years ago, life expectancy was between 30 to 40 years. The rapidly evolv­ing Knowl­edge Soci­ety is plac­ing new and enor­mous demands on our “prim­i­tive” human brains. And the longer our lifes­pans, the more obvi­ous the “cog­ni­tive gap”. Hence, from a health point of view, the grow­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise your brain at these events

Here are the dates and loca­tions of some upcom­ing events where I will be pre­sent­ing. Please intro­duce your­self if you are attending!

» Sep­tem­ber 4-5th, San Fran­cisco, CA: sev­eral Brain Health Pro­mo­tion ses­sions, at the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging conference.

» Octo­ber 9th, Van­cou­ver, Canada: Exer­cis­ing Our Brains 101 and Nav­i­gat­ing The Brain Fit­ness Maze, at the British Colum­bia Seniors Liv­ing Asso­ci­a­tion annual conference.

» Octo­ber 11th, San Jose, CA: The Sci­ence and Prac­tice of Brain Fit­ness, at San Jose State University’s Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Octo­ber 23rd, Pocatello, Idaho: Cog­ni­tive and Emo­tional Train­ing for Healthy Aging, at the Idaho Con­fer­ence on Health Care. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 1st, Berke­ley, CA: The Sci­ence and Prac­tice of Brain Fit­ness, at UC-Berkeley’s Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 7-9th, Dubai: Global Agenda Coun­cils Inau­gural Sum­mit in Dubai, orga­nized by the World Eco­nomic Forum. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 17th, New York City: The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Field: Research and Impli­ca­tions, at New York Pub­lic Library.

» Decem­ber 5th, San Anto­nio, Texas: The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Field: Overview of Research and Tools, at the Inter­na­tional Coun­cil on Active Aging con­fer­ence. (Infor­ma­tion here).

As always, I will share the main take-aways via this blog. I hope to meet some of you down the road!

Update: The Challenges of Gerontology

Here you have the twice-a-month newslet­ter with our most pop­u­lar blog posts. Please brainremem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, sim­ply by sub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

First, I am pleased to report that have been invited to par­tic­i­pate in a new ini­tia­tive by the World Eco­nomic Forum. Described as “In a global envi­ron­ment marked by short-term ori­en­ta­tion and silo-thinking, Global Agenda Coun­cils will fos­ter inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and long-range think­ing to address the pre­vail­ing chal­lenges on the global agenda”, my spe­cific Coun­cil will focus on the Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy. More infor­ma­tion on the Global Agenda Coun­cils here. Will keep you updated via this blog.

In the News

Yes, It is Smart to Learn New Tricks: a recent Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle presents a good overview of brain health trends, but framed around a highly arti­fi­cial choice for con­sumers: either you a) do phys­i­cal exer­cise, or b) take part in social inter­ac­tions, or c) engage in men­tal exer­cise. What about switch­ing off those TVs and hav­ing time for all a, b, c, and more?

Mind Games: the August issue of Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Jour­nal brings a very good piece on the emerg­ing brain fit­ness soft­ware cat­e­gory (sub­scrip­tion required), which we enhance by pro­vid­ing a quick overview of the field.

Cog­niFit raises USD 5 mil­lion: if 2007 was the year of brain fit­ness media cov­er­age, 2008 seems to be the year of seri­ous invest­ments. This Cog­niFit round fol­lows other recent ven­ture invest­ments: Dakim ($10.6m), Lumos Labs ($3m). We hear all these com­pa­nies are devot­ing part of these resources to fund clin­i­cal trials…never too late.

Brain Sci­ence and Life­long Learning

Schools as Brain Train­ing Hubs?: in a recent post we asked for sug­ges­tions to refine our pre­dic­tions for the 2007–2015 period. A good num­ber of read­ers con­tributed, and the win­ner of this infor­mal con­test is… Scott Spears, retired pub­lic schools super­in­ten­dent, for his thoughts on the future impli­ca­tions of cog­ni­tive research on schooling.

Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis and Brain Plas­tic­ity in Adult Brains: while “adults may have a ten­dency to get set in their ways I’ve been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change?”, change itself is an excel­lent prac­tice for healthy brain aging, as Lau­rie Bar­tels explains.

A Farewell to Demen­tia?: a fas­ci­nat­ing recent edi­to­r­ial in Archives of Neu­rol­ogy, titled Demen­tia: A Word to be For­got­ten, calls for more con­struc­tive ter­mi­nol­ogy. Dr. Joshua Stein­er­man weighs in.

Other Thought-Provoking Articles

To Think or to Blink?: should Ham­let be liv­ing with us now and read­ing best­sellers, he might be won­der­ing: To Blink or not to Blink? To Think or not to Think? We are pleased to present an arti­cle by Madeleine Van Hecke, offer­ing the “on the other hand” to Mal­colm Gladwell’s Blink argument.

The impact of web 2.0 on health­care: we hosted Med­i­cine 2.0, a bi-weekly col­lec­tion of arti­cles that ana­lyze the cur­rent and poten­tial impact of web 2.0 tech­nolo­gies on med­i­cine and healthcare.

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers: Spot the Dif­fer­ence: how many dif­fer­ences can you spot (and how many cog­ni­tive func­tions can you engage with this sim­ple exercise?)

I hope you are hav­ing a great August!

Global Agenda Councils: The Challenges of Gerontology

My brain is hon­oured to have been invited to participate-together with the rest of my body of course– in a new ini­tia­tive by the World Eco­nomic Forum. Of course I have accepted, given that the Global Agenda Coun­cils have this fas­ci­nat­ing charter:

- “Global Agenda Coun­cils will chal­lenge pre­vail­ing assump­tions, mon­i­tor trends, map inter­re­la­tion­ships and address knowl­edge gaps. Equally impor­tant, Global Agenda Coun­cils will also pro­pose solu­tions, devise strate­gies and eval­u­ate the effec­tive­ness of actions using mea­sur­able benchmarks.”

- “In a global envi­ron­ment marked by short-term ori­en­ta­tion and silo-thinking, Global Agenda Coun­cils will fos­ter inter­dis­ci­pli­nary and long-range think­ing to address the pre­vail­ing chal­lenges on the global agenda.”

Update (Novem­ber 2nd, 2008): my pro­posal is to cre­ate a Global Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Inno­va­tion. I will keep you informed via this blog.

The Read the rest of this entry »




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