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.

- Results -

- 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?

If 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

Order Book at
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click


to order at
Print Edi­tion, $24.95

Order Kin­dle Edi­tion
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click


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Haven’t read this book yet?

May 2015 Online Course: How to Nav­i­gate Con­ven­tional and Com­ple­men­tary ADHD Treat­ments for Healthy Brain Development

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