Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive Training can Boost Sense of Control

Having a sense of control over one’s life may be one of the most crucial markers of successful aging. Aging individuals who feel in control seem to know more about their health, be more likely to take actions to protect it and thus enjoy healthier and longer lives.

Studies have shown that people feel less in control as they get older. Could cognitive or brain training boost such feeling and reverse or at least counteract that trend?

A recent study says the answer is yes. Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing Working Memory Training & Medication Treatment for ADHD

Working memory (WM) is the cognitive system responsible for the temporary storage and manipulation of information and plays an important role in both learning and focusing attention. Considerable research has documented that many children and adults with ADHD have WM deficits and that this contributes to difficulties associated with the disorder. For an excellent introduction to the role of WM deficits in ADHD, click here.

A simple example illustrates the importance of WM for particular academic tasks. Try adding 3 and 9 in your head. That was probably easy for you. Now trying adding 33 and 99. That was probably more difficult. Finally, try adding 333 and 999. This is quite challenging for most adults even though each calculation required is trivially easy. The challenge occurred because you need to store information – the sum of 3+9 in the one’s column and then ten’s column – as you process the remaining part of the problem, i.e., 3+9 in the hundred’s column, and this taxed your WM. If your WM capacity was exceeded, you could not complete the problem successfully.

This simple problem also illustrates the difference between short-term memory (STM) and WM. Short-term memory simply involves retaining information in mind for short periods of time, e.g., remembering that the problem you need to solve is 333+999. Working memory, in contrast, involves mentally manipulating – or ‘working’ with – retained information and comes into play in a wide range of learning activities. For example, to answer questions about a science chapter, a child not only has to correctly retain factual information but must mentally work with that information to answer questions about it. Thus, when a child’s WM capacity is low relative to peers, academic performance is likely to be compromised in multiple areas.

Because WM deficits play an important role in the struggles experienced by many individuals with ADHD, it is important to consider how different interventions address this aspect of the disorder. In this study, the authors were interested in comparing the impact of Working Memory Training and stimulant medication treatment on the WM performance of children diagnosed with ADHD.

Participants were 25 8-11 year-old children with ADHD (21 boy and 4 girls) who were Placebo effect, mind hacksbeing treated with stimulant medication. Children’s memory performance was assessed on 4 occasions using the Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA), a computerized test that measures verbal short-term memory, verbal working memory, visuo-spatial short-term memory, and visuo-spatial working memory.

At time 1, the assessment was conducted when children had been off medication for at least 24 hours. The second assessment occurred an average of 5 months later and when children were on medication. The third assessment occurred after children had completed 5 weeks of Cogmed Working Memory Training using the standard training protocol (see below). The final assessment occurred approximately 6 months after training had ended. This design enabled the researchers to make the following comparisons:

– WM performance on medication vs. off medication (T1 vs T2)
– WM performance on medication vs. after training (T2 vs. T3)
– WM performance immediately after training ended vs. 6 months following training (T3 vs. T4)

This final comparison provided information on whether any benefits provided by the training had endured.

In addition to measuring STM and WM at each time point, measures of IQ were collected at times 1, 2, and 3.

Working Memory Training

WM training was conducted using the standard Cogmed training protocol with each child Cogmed working memory trainingcompleting 20-25 training sessions within a 25 day period. The training requires the storage and manipulation of sequences of verbal, e.g., repeating back a sequence of digits in reverse order, and/or visuo-spatial information, e.g., recalling the location of objects on different portions of the computer screen.

Difficulty level is calibrated on a trial by trial basis so the child is always working at a level that closely matches their performance. For example, if a child successfully recalled three digits in reverse order, on the next trial he had to recall four. When a trial was failed, the next trial was made easier by reducing the number of items to be recalled. This method of ‘adaptive training’ is thought to be a key element because it requires the child to ‘stretch’ their WM capacity to move through the program.


Impact of Short-Term Memory and Working Memory

Medication vs. no medication – When tested on medication, Read the rest of this entry »

Working Memory Training can Influence Brain Biochemistry

I wanted to alert you to a very interesting finding published in a recent issue of Science, one of the world’s leading scientific journals.

The study was led by Dr. Torkel Klingberg and his colleagues from the Karolinska Institute Torkel Klingbergin Sweden. The goal was to learn whether Working Memory Training is associated with changes in brain biochemistry, thus suggesting a mechanism by which training may lead to enhanced working memory capacity and a reduction in attention problems. Thus, although Working Memory Training has previously shown promising results as a treatment for working memory and attention difficulties, this was a basic science study rather than a treatment study.

The major finding was that increased working memory capacity following training was associated with changes in brain biochemistry. Specifically, the researchers found changes in the density and binding potential of cortical D1 dopamine receptors in brain regions that are activated during working memory tasks.

Results from this study suggest a biological basis for the improvement in working memory capacity and reductions i Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Training (Cogmed) Changes the Brain More Than We Thought

Cognitive Training Can Alter Biochemistry Of The Brain (Science Daily)

– “Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute have shown for the first time that the active training of the working memory brings about visible changes in the number of dopamine receptors in the human brain.”

– “”Brain biochemistry doesn’t just underpin our mental activity; our mental activity and thinking process can also affect the biochemistry,” says Professor Torkel Klingberg, who led the study.”

– “Changes in the number of dopamine receptors in a person doesn’t give us the key to poor memory,” says Professor Lars Farde, one of the researchers who took part in the study. “We also have to ask if the differences could have been caused by a lack of memory training or other environmental factors. Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effective treatments that combine medication and cognitive training, in which case we’re in extremely interesting territory.”

Comment:  couldn’t agree more with “Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effective treatments that combine medication and cognitive training, in which case we’re in extremely interesting territory.” This study adds a very important angle to the growing literature on working memory training, showing a more fundamental, structural impact, that once thought (such as the well-known effect that “cells that fire together wire together”). The computerized cognitive program used in the study was Cogmed working memory training.

More on Torkel Klingberg’s research:

– Article written by Torkel Klingberg on The Overflowing Brain & Information Overload

– His recent book, which was The SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory

– 2006 Interview with Dr. Klingberg: Working Memory Training and RoboMemo: Interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg

Memory Training and Fluid Intelligence

Quick update: 2 very interesting news, 2 excellent blog carnivals.

1) Forget Brain Age: Researchers Develop Software That Makes You Smarter (Wired). Thanks Senia!

– “In a limited trial, he and his team were able to make 34 test subjects significantly better at answering IQ test questions after training them on a completely separate memory task”

Read the rest of this entry »

Improving Driving Skills and Brain Functioning- Interview with ACTIVE’s Jerri Edwards

Jerri Edwards- Active trialToday we are fortunate to interview Dr. Jerri Edwards, an Associate Professor at University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies and Co-Investigator of the influencial ACTIVE study. Dr. Edwards was trained by Dr. Karlene K. Ball, and her research is aimed toward discovering how cognitive abilities can be maintained and even enhanced with advancing age.

Main focus of research

Alvaro Fernandez: Please explain to our readers your main research areas

Jerri Edwards: I am particularly interested in how cognitive interventions may help older adults to avoid or at least delay functional difficulties and thereby maintain their independence longer. Much of my work has focused on the functional ability of driving including assessing driving fitness among older adults and remediation of cognitive decline that results in driving difficulties.

Some research questions that interest me include, how can we maintain healthier lives longer? How can training improve cognitive abilities, both to improve those abilities and also to slow-down, or delay, cognitive decline? The specific cognitive ability that I have studied the most is processing speed, which is one of the cognitive skills that decline early on as we age.

ACTIVE results

Can you explain what cognitive processing speed is, and why it is relevant to our daily lives?

Processing speed is mental quickness. Just like a computer with a 486 processor can do a lot of the same things as a computer with a Pentium 4 processor, but it takes much longer, our minds tend to slow down with age as compared to when we were younger. We can do the same tasks, but it takes more time. Quick speed of processing is important for Read the rest of this entry »

The Brain Fitness Program DVD (Michael Merzenich)

The most popular question we got when we announced that PBS had a great special on Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity in December was, when will the DVD be available?

Well, finally here it comes. You can click on the image or the title to go over to PBS shop to learn more and buy it.

The Brain Fitness Program DVD ($24.95, shipped by 02/01/08). “This program presents a workout to help viewers get their brains in better shape. The Brain Fitness Program is based on neuro-plasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt — even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of scientists has developed computer-based stimulus sets that drive beneficial chemical, physical and functional changes in the brain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the University of California San Francisco and his colleagues around the world have been leading this effort; he brings the research findings, along with a scientifically based set of brain exercises, to PBS viewers in this innovative and life-altering program. Peter Coyote narrates. ”

To purchase: click Here.

You can watch a 3-minute trailer: click here.


Note: How can anyone take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which seem to contradict each other?

Do supplements improve memory? Do you need both physical and mental exercise –or is one of them enough? Why is managing stress so important to attention and memory? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

SharpBrainsGuide_3DIf you have these questions, check out this new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:

“Finally, an insightful and complete overview of the science, products and trends to debunk old myths and help us all maintain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Gloria Cavanaugh, former President & CEO of the American Society on Aging and founding Board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving
Kudos for an excellent resource! This SharpBrains Guide is full of top notch information, provides practical tips and helps separate hype from hope in the brain health arena.”
Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D., Chief Program Officer, Alzheimer’s Association
“A masterful guide to the brain training revolution. Promises to stimulate a much needed conversation that will nudge society to build a new brain fitness culture on solid, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

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