Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain teaser to test your multi-tasking skills and improve concentration


How often do you review and comment on a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a colleague about an unrelated matter? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his homework? Read the rest of this entry »

Brain fitness tips to improve concentration and memory

Tips-on-How-to-Improve-Memory

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Concentration–or attention– and memory are two crucial mental skills and are directly related. In fact, many memory complaints have nothing to do with the actual ability to remember things: They come from a failure to focus properly on the task at hand.

For example, when you don’t remember where you parked your car Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Enhancement via Magic Pills? likely not soon

Excellent Scientific American cover story:

Turbocharging the Brain–Pills to Make You Smarter?

“Will a pill at breakfast improve concentration and memory—and will it do so without long-term detriment to your health?”

Their answer, in short: not really, not anytime soon.

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s pay real attention to non-invasive options to augment cognition, from exercise to cognitive training and meditation.

For more context, you may enjoy my recent article Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Brain Quiz: Do You Have a Brain?

Have you already read The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness?

Let’s see…brain health and brain fitness

1. Pick the only part of your body that does not contain fat:

a. Arm
b. Thigh
c. Brain
d. None

Answer: d) Fats are also present in the brain: in neurons’ membranes to keep them flexible. These fats are the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids molecules. (Page 32 of the book)

2. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain Omega-3 fatty acids

a. Tuna
b. Walnut
c. Kiwi
d. Jelly Beans

Answer: d) Fatty acids can be found in cold-water fish (such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and tuna), kiwi, and walnuts. (Page 33)

3. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain antioxidants

a. Olive oil
b. Milk
c. Nuts
d. Berries

Answer: b) Antioxidants can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), citrus fruit, and berries. (Page 33)

4. Chronic Stress cannot:

a. Prevent you from being creative
b. Kill brain cells
c. Prevent you from sleeping
d. Kill liver cells

Answer: d) Prolonged exposure to adrenal steroid hormones like cortisol, which is released into the blood stream when we are stressed, can lead to cell death and block the formation of new neurons. (Page 35)

5. What type of physical exercise is the best for your brain health?

a. Weight lifting
b. Aerobic exercises
c. Flexibility exercises Read the rest of this entry »

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 evaluation of the scientific evidence.

Let’s take a couple of recent examples, in successive days:

“It doesn’t work!” type of headline:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  Formal brain exercise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy older people shouldn’t bother spending money on computer games and websites promising to ward off mental decline, the author of a review of scientific evidence for the benefits of these “brain exercise” programs says.

It works! type of headline:
ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Computer Exercises Improve Memory And Attention, Study Suggests”
According to the researchers, participants who used the Brain Fitness Program also scored as well as those ten years younger, on average, on memory and attention tests for which they did not train.

So, does structured brain exercise / cognitive training work or not?

The problem may in fact reside in asking this very question in the first place, as Alvaro pointed out a while ago in his article Alzheimer’s Disease: too serious to play with headlines.

We need a more nuanced set of questions.

Why? Because:
1. Cognition is made of several different abilities (working memory, attention, executive functions such as decision-making, etc)
2. Available training programs do not all train the same abilities
3. Users of training programs do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to differentiate between enhancing cognitive functions and delaying the onset of cognitive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illustrate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »

Memory Problems? Perhaps you are Multi-tasking

Today’s kids are into multi-tasking. This is the generation hooked on iPods, IM’ing, video games – not to mention TV! Many people in my generation think it is wonderful that kids can do all these things simultaneously and are impressed with their competence.

Well, as a teacher of such kids when they reach college, I am not impressed. College students these days have short attention spans and have trouble concentrating. They got this way in secondary school. I see this in the middle-school outreach program I help run. At this age kids are really wrapped up in multi-tasking at the expense of focus.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study last year, school kids in all grades beyond the second grade committed, on average, more than six hours per day to TV or videos, music, video games, and computers. Almost one-third reported that “most of the time” they did their homework while chatting on the phone, surfing the Web, sending instant messages, watching TV, or listening to music.

Kids think that this entertainment while studying helps their learning. It probably does make learning less tedious, but it clearly makes learning less efficient and less effective. Multi-tasking violates everything we know about how memory works. Now we have objective scientific evidence that Read the rest of this entry »

Nintendo Brain Training and Math in UK Schools

Computer game boosts maths scores (BBC):

– “It also found improvements in pupils’ concentration and behaviour.”

– “The study involved more than 600 pupils in 32 schools across Scotland using the Brain Training from Dr Kawashima game on the Nintendo DS every day.”

– “Researchers found that while all groups had improved their scores, the group using the game had improved by a further 50%.”

– “Less able children were found to be more likely to improve than the highest attainers and almost all pupils had an increased perception of their own ability.”

Comment:  fascinating results supporting the potential role for “Serious Games” in education. Now, please take the results with a grain of salt, since the study doesn’t seem to have been published yet in any top-tier peer-reviewed journal.. The information publicly available seems to simply consist of a press release by Learning and Teaching Scotland. We hope to see an in-depth report to answer many open questions on the study. In any case, welcome news!

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