Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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!

What You Can do to Improve Memory (and Why It Deteriorates in Old Age)

After about age 50, most peo­ple begin to expe­ri­ence a decline in mem­ory capa­bil­ity. Why is that? One obvi­ous answer is that the small arter­ies of the brain begin to clog up, often as a result of a life­time of eat­ing the wrong things and a lack of exer­cise. If that life­time has been stress­ful, many neu­rons may have been killed by stress hor­mones. Given theImprove Memory Bill Klemm most recent sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture, reviewed in my book Thank You, Brain, For All You Remem­ber. What You For­got Was My Fault, dead neu­rons can’t be replaced, except in the hip­pocam­pus, which is for­tu­nate for mem­ory because the hip­pocam­pus is essen­tial for mak­ing cer­tain kinds of mem­o­ries per­ma­nent. Another cause is incip­i­ent Alzheimer’s dis­ease; autop­sies show that many peo­ple have the lesions of the dis­ease but have never shown symp­toms, pre­sum­ably because a life­time of excep­tional men­tal activ­ity has built up a “cog­ni­tive reserve.

So is there any­thing you can do about it besides exer­cise like crazy, eat healthy foods that you don’t like all that much, pop your statin pills, and take up yoga?

Yes. In short: focus, focus, focus.

Chang­ing think­ing styles can help. Research shows that Read the rest of this entry »

MindFit special discount for SharpBrains readers

For a lim­ited time only: we can offer a 10% Dis­count and Free ship­ping for Sharp­Brains read­ers who want to buy Mind­Fit brain fit­ness pro­gram. Sim­ply visit this web­site intro­duce the Dis­count Code SB-MF-10 in the Discounts/Coupons field as you check out.

Note: by click­ing here you will visit a dif­fer­ent web­site, unafil­i­ated with us. Please remem­ber that we have not devel­oped Mind­Fit, but con­sider it one of the pro­grams with good grades in our 10-Question Eval­u­a­tion Check­list, so we are glad to have secured this discount.

Below you have some demos, so you get a sense of the types of exer­cises we are talk­ing about. Have fun!

Inside and Outside Task

The “Inside and Out­side” task was designed to train your divided atten­tion skills. Divided atten­tion is the abil­ity to pay atten­tion to more than one thing at a time. Read the rest of this entry »

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