Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Lumos Labs (Lumosity) Brain Training Games

Press release: Here

– “Lumos Labs, devel­oper of, the lead­ing web-based provider of scientifically-tested brain train­ing games, today announced that it has raised $3 mil­lion of equity financ­ing from Pequot Ven­tures, Nor­west Ven­ture Part­ners (NVP), and exist­ing investors includ­ing Michael Dear­ing. The investor group brings exper­tise that will cat­alyze the ongo­ing devel­op­ment of and sup­port Lumos Labs mis­sion to improve lives by enhanc­ing brain fitness.

– “Lumos Labs is at the cen­ter of a boom­ing inter­est in cog­ni­tive exer­cise and the emerg­ing sci­ence about the remark­able plas­tic­ity of the brain, said Amish Jani of Pequot Ven­tures. has seen tremen­dous demand from users and part­ners alike by lever­ag­ing the power of the web to deliver a unique plat­form for brain fitness.

Great news for the sec­tor. The more tools avail­able for lead­ing men­tally stim­u­lat­ing lives, the bet­ter we will all be.Rubik's Cube brain exercise (click Here to get a sense of their games) pro­vides a great user expe­ri­ence at a rea­son­able cost. From an investor’s per­spec­tive, we believe Lumos Labs is a very seri­ous con­tender in the brain fit­ness space, and it has indeed been exe­cut­ing a very smart online strategy.

Now, I am not sure what “scientifically-tested brain train­ing games” really means. While prepar­ing our Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket Report we reviewed all pub­lished research on the effi­cacy behind dif­fer­ent pro­grams, and didn’t find any for Lumos­ity (which has some very inter­est­ing inter­nal, but not pub­lished, data).

We gave Lumos­ity a score of 2 ouf of 10 in Clin­i­cal Val­i­da­tion (with Nin­tendo Brain Age get­ting a score of 1, and NovaV­i­sion, cleared by the FDA for use with stroke/ TBI patients, get­ting a 5).

Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Development and Brain Research: Articles, Books, Papers (ASA)

brain fitness eventWe had a very fun ses­sion titled Teach­ing Brain Fit­ness in Your Com­mu­nity at an Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging (ASA) con­fer­ence for health pro­fes­sion­als a cou­ple of weeks ago. Full house, with over 60 atten­dants and very good par­tic­i­pa­tion, show­ing great inter­est in the topic. I can’t wait to see the evaluations.

These are some of the resources I promised as a follow-up, which can be use­ful to every­one inter­ested in our field:

Good gen­eral arti­cles in the busi­ness and gen­eral media:

Change or Die

Want a sharp mind for your golden years? Start now

You’re Wiser Now

On how new neu­rons are born and grow in the adult brain:

Salk Sci­en­tists Demon­strate For The First Time That Newly Born Brain Cells Are Func­tional In The Adult Brain

Old Brains, New Tricks

On the sur­pris­ing plas­tic­ity and devel­op­ment poten­tial through­out life:

Brain Plas­tic­ity, Lan­guage Pro­cess­ing and Reading

Jug­gling Jug­gles the Brain

Suc­cess­ful Aging of the Healthy Brain

Other impor­tant aspects:

Stress and the Brain

Exer­cise and the Brain

Humor, Laugh­ter and The Brain

On the impor­tance and impact of men­tal stim­u­la­tion and train­ing: Read the rest of this entry »

10 (Surprising) Memory Improvement Tips

Healthy Seniors

There are sev­eral brain fit­ness top­ics where we still see a large dis­con­nect between research and pop­u­lar knowl­edge, and a major one is the rela­tion­ship between mem­ory and stress. Car­o­line and I col­lab­o­rated on this post to bring you some con­text and tips.

Our soci­ety has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with phys­i­cal, imme­di­ately life-threatening crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and ill­nesses that gnaw away at us slowly, that stress us out and that, believe it or not, end up hurt­ing our mem­ory and brain.

Dr. Robert Sapol­sky, in an inter­view about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans uniquely “can get stressed sim­ply with thought, turn­ing on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releases the stress hor­mones through life-preserving action, while we usu­ally just keep mud­dling along, get­ting more anx­ious by the moment.

What is the rela­tion­ship between stress and mem­ory? We all know chronic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our mem­ory? Inter­est­ingly, acute stress can help us focus and remem­ber things more vividly. Chronic stress, on the other hand, reduce our abil­ity to focus and can specif­i­cally dam­age cells in the hip­pocam­pus, a brain struc­ture crit­i­cal to encod­ing short term memory.

When is stress chronic? When one feels Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Health Glossary

Given the grow­ing num­ber of arti­cles in the pop­u­lar press men­tion­ing words such as “neu­ro­plas­tic­ity”, “fMRI” and “cog­ni­tive reserve”, let’s review some key find­ings, con­cepts and terms.

First, a pre­scient quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­ago Ramon y Cajal (1852–1934): “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”.

fmri.jpgThanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, regarded “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­omy, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists have been find­ing that the brain has a num­ber of “core capac­i­ties” and “men­tal mus­cles” that can be exer­cised through nov­elty, vari­ety and prac­tice, and that exer­cis­ing our brain can influ­ence the gen­er­a­tion of new neu­rons and their con­nec­tions. Brain exer­cise is being rec­og­nized, there­fore, as a crit­i­cal pil­lar of brain health, together with nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise and stress management.

Pre­vi­ous beliefs about our brain and how it works have been proven false. Some beliefs that have been debunked include claims that adult brains can not cre­ate new neu­rons (shown to be false by Berke­ley sci­en­tists Mar­ian Dia­mond and Mark Rosen­zweig, and Salk Institute’s Fred Gage), notions that work­ing mem­ory has a max­i­mum limit of 6 or 7 items (debunked by Karolin­ska Insti­tute Torkel Kling­berg), and assump­tions that the brain’s basic processes can not be reor­ga­nized by repeated prac­tice (UCSF’s Drs. Paula Tal­lal and Michael Merzenich). The “men­tal mus­cles” we can train include atten­tion, stress and emo­tional man­age­ment, mem­ory, visual/ spa­tial, audi­tory processes and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and problem-solving.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion is impor­tant if done in the right sup­port­ive and engag­ing envi­ron­ment. Stanford’s Robert Sapol­sky has proven that chronic stress and cor­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion, which may be aggra­vated due to imposed men­tal stim­u­la­tion, may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Hav­ing the right moti­va­tion is essential.

A sur­pris­ing and promis­ing area of sci­en­tific inquiry is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR). An increas­ing num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists (such as Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard David­son) are inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­ity of trained med­i­ta­tors to develop and sus­tain atten­tion and visu­al­iza­tions and to work pos­i­tively with pow­er­ful emo­tional states and stress through the directed men­tal processes of med­i­ta­tion practices.

And now, some keywords:

Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: struc­tured set of brain exer­cises, usu­ally computer-based, designed to train spe­cific brain areas and processes in tar­geted ways.

Chronic Stress: ongo­ing, long-term stress, which blocks the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons and Read the rest of this entry »

Stress and Short Term Memory

We all know chronic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our mem­ory? Inter­est­ingly, acute stress can help you focus and remem­ber things more vividly. Chronic stress, on the other hand, reduces your abil­ity to focus and can specif­i­cally dam­age cells in the hip­pocam­pus, a brain struc­ture crit­i­cal to encod­ing short term memory.

When is stress chronic? When you feel out of con­trol of your life. You may feel irri­ta­ble or anx­ious. While every indi­vid­ual varies in their response the type and quan­tity of stress, there are some things you can do to feel more in con­trol of your envi­ron­ment. This sense of empow­er­ment can lower your stress, and as a result, help your memory.

What are some ways to feel in con­trol and less stressed?

  1. Use a cal­en­dar to sched­ule impor­tant things. Give items a date and a priority.
  2. Make a list of things that need to be done. Even if it’s a long list, it can be reward­ing to cross off items as you com­plete them.
  3. Use a con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice like yoga or med­i­ta­tion to calm your mind and body or try using a heart rate vari­abil­ity sen­sor to learn to relax and focus your mind and body.
  4. Ask your­self how impor­tant some­thing truly is to you. Maybe you’re stress­ing over some­thing that you are bet­ter off just let­ting go.
  5. Del­e­gate what you can.
  6. Get reg­u­lar exer­cise to burn off those excess stress hormones.
  7. Get enough sleep so that you can recharge your batteries.
  8. Eat well and reduce your caf­feine and sugar intake which can add to your sense of jitteriness.
  9. Main­tain your social net­work. Shar­ing con­cerns with friends and fam­ily can help you feel less overwhelmed.
  10. Give your­self 10 min­utes just to relax every day.

Fur­ther Read­ing on Stress and Mem­ory
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapol­sky, Ph.D.
A Primer on Mul­ti­task­ing
Sim­ple Stress Test
Quick Stress Buster
Is there such thing as GOOD stress?
Brain Yoga: Stress — Killing You Softly

I am busy executive with a challenging job. How is brain fitness relevant to me?

Here is ques­tion 21 from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions.


I am busy exec­u­tive with a chal­leng­ing job. How is brain fit­ness rel­e­vant to me?

Key Points:
  • Reduce your stress to improve con­cen­tra­tion and learn­ing readi­ness and reduce distractions.
  • Increase your men­tal stim­u­la­tion to help main­tain a healthy, flex­i­ble brain.

Exec­u­tives, or any­one involved in com­plex and rapidly evolv­ing envi­ron­ments, need to make pres­sured deci­sions based on sound logic, instead of emo­tional impulses. It is not easy to deal with the frus­tra­tion, for exam­ple, when Read the rest of this entry »

Stress Management Workshop for International Women’s Day

Today is Inter­na­tional Women’s Day 2007.

Global con­sult­ing com­pany Accen­ture orga­nized a series of events, and I was for­tu­nate to lead a fun work­shop on The Neu­ro­science of Stress and Stress Man­age­ment in their San Fran­cisco office, help­ing over 125 accom­plished women (and a few men) learn what stress is, its impli­ca­tions for our brain func­tion­ing, per­for­mance and health, and of course some tips and tech­niques to develop our “stress man­age­ment” mus­cles. It was an honor to be able to wrap up a great event that included Dis­trict Attor­ney Kamala D. Har­ris, two of the co-authors of This is Not the Life I Ordered, a video by Sen­a­tor Dianne Fein­stein, and some great Accen­ture women.

We dis­cussed how stress is the emo­tional and phys­i­o­log­i­cal reac­tion to a threat, whether real or imag­ined, that results in a series of adap­ta­tions by our bod­ies. And how stress man­age­ment can bring a vari­ety of ben­e­fits: sus­tained peak per­for­mance, cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­ity, mem­ory, deci­sion mak­ing, and even longevity.
You can see a very inter­est­ing exam­ple of the rela­tion­ship between atten­tion, mem­ory and stress with this exper­i­ment: Atten­tion and work­ing memory

Let me share some key take-aways from the work­shop, together with some exer­cises we used to illus­trate key points:

1) Stress can be a major road­block for peak per­for­mance and health
2) Some tips and tech­niques to bet­ter man­age stress:
a) Pick your bat­tles Read the rest of this entry »

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