Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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NIH outlines global research agenda to tackle brain disorders–from cognitive impairments to depression and dementia

BrainDisordersLifespanHeads-up: There’s an excellent–and open-access– research supplement in Nature, result of an NIH-led effort to advance the global brain disorders research agenda.

Description: Infants are starved of oxygen during difficult births. Children’s cognitive function is permanently damaged due to malnutrition or exposure to infections or toxins. Adults suffer from Read the rest of this entry »

Can you grow your hippocampus? Yes. Here’s how, and why it matters

hippocampus_brain.

A pair of thumb-sized structures deep in the center of the human brain are critical for our ability to learn and remember. Thanks to their shape, each of them is called hippocampus – which means seahorse in Greek. These brain areas have the unique capacity to generate new neurons every day. In fact, recent human studies have shown that Read the rest of this entry »

To reach your cognitive potential across the whole lifespan, augment healthy lifestyle with brain training

BrainFitnessTrajectoryCan You Get Smarter? (The New York Times):

“A few years back, a joint study by BBC and Cambridge University neuroscientists put brain training to the test…There was, however a glimmer of hope for subjects age 60 and above…Unlike the younger participants, older subjects showed a significant improvement in verbal reasoning Read the rest of this entry »

Will Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit enhance physical & cognitive health? Probably – if people go

The annual wellness visit: An opportunity to improve revenue and patient care (PhysBizTech):

“Medicare recently introduced the Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) to keep Medicare beneficiaries healthy, or help Medicare beneficiaries become healthier, by promoting positive health habits and a healthy lifestyle. Unlike Read the rest of this entry »

Reminder: Q&A Today with Dr. Gary Small, author of The Memory Bible

—> Join Live Q&A with Dr. Gary Small by clicking HERE, today Novem­ber 1st at 11am Pacific Time/ 2pm Eastern Time. Chat about mem­ory, mem­ory tech­niques and brain-healthy lifestyles with Dr. Small, Direc­tor of UCLA’s Mem­ory Clinic and Cen­ter on Aging and author of The Memory Bible. You can also learn more about the Brain Fitness Q&A Series.

Does Coffee Boost Brain/ Cognitive Functions Over Time?

A fewA_small_cup_of_coffee eternal questions:
– Is caffeine good for the brain?
– Does it boost cognitive functions?
– Does it protect against dementia?

There is little doubt that drinking that morning cup of coffee will likely increase alertness, but the main questions that research is trying to answer go beyond that. Basically: is there a sustained, lifetime, benefit or harm from drinking coffee regularly?

The answer, so far, contains good news and bad news. The good news for coffee drinkers is that most of the long-term results are directionally more positive than negative, so no clear harm seems to occur. The bad news is that it is not clear so far whether caffeine has beneficial effects on general brain functions, either short-term or long-term (aged-related decline or risks of dementia).

It is important to note that many of the studies showing an effect of coffee consumption on brain functions or risks of dementia report a correlation or association (they are not randomized clinical trials). As you know, correlation doesn’t prove causation: coffee drinkers may seem to do well in a number in these long-term studies, but there may be other reasons why coffee drinkers do better.

Q: How does caffeine affect my brain?
A: Caffeine is a stimulant.

It belongs to a chemical group called xanthine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring xanthine in the brain that slows down the activity of brain cells (neurons). To a neuron, caffeine looks like adenosine. It is therefore used by some neurons in place of adenosine. The result is that these neurons speed up instead of slowing down.

This increased neuronal activity triggers the release of the adrenaline hormone, which will affect your body Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this article belongs to the excellent May 2009 special issue on Augmenting Cognition at scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. The 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 »

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