Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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


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!)

(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 »

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