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Brain Training to Enhance Performance, both post-Traumatic Brain Injury and for the workplace

A cou­ple of very inter­est­ing recent announce­ments show (in a mil­i­tary con­text) how well-targeted brain train­ing can com­ple­ment and aug­ment exist­ing approaches, both to help “nor­mal” and “clin­i­cal” pop­u­la­tions, in ways that silo-based, rear-mirror think­ing often misses: Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscience, brain development and cognitive health

Round-up of recent arti­cles on neu­ro­science, brain devel­op­ment and cog­ni­tive health:

Encephalon 68: A car­ni­val of neu­ro­science:

Chris hosts a great col­lec­tion of neu­ro­science and psy­chol­ogy posts in his sig­na­ture Q&A style.

Bilin­gual Babies Get Head Start — Before They Can Talk:

- Unlike the mono­lin­gual group, the bilin­gual group was able to suc­cess­fully learn a new sound type and use it to pre­dict where each char­ac­ter would pop up.

- The bilin­gual babies’ skill applies to more than just switch­ing between lan­guages. Mehler likened this appar­ently enhanced cog­ni­tive abil­ity to a brain select­ing “the right tool for the right oper­a­tion” also called exec­u­tive function.

- In this basic process, the brain, ever flex­i­ble, nim­bly switches from one learned response to another as sit­u­a­tions change.

- Mono­lin­gual babies hone this abil­ity later in their young lives, Mehler suggests.”

Study shows how kids’ stress hurts mem­ory:

Now, research is pro­vid­ing what could be cru­cial clues to explain how child­hood poverty trans­lates into dim­mer chances of suc­cess: Chronic stress from grow­ing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leav­ing chil­dren with impair­ment in at least one key area — work­ing memory.”

Return­ing troops get­ting tested for brain injuries:

- “More than 150,000 ser­vice mem­bers from the Marines, Air Force, Army and Navy have under­gone the test­ing that became manda­tory last year. Those who suf­fer a con­cus­sion or sim­i­lar head injury will get a follow-up test.”

Dia­betes ‘impact on brain power’:

- “Fail­ure to con­trol type 2 dia­betes may have a long-term impact on the brain, research has suggested.

- Lead researcher Dr Jackie Price said: “Either hypos lead to cog­ni­tive decline, or cog­ni­tive decline makes it more dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to man­age their dia­betes, which in turn causes more hypos.

- “A third expla­na­tion could be that a third uniden­ti­fied fac­tor is caus­ing both the hypos and the cog­ni­tive decline.”

Art Kramer on Why We Need Walking Book Clubs

Dr. Arthur Kramer is a Pro­fes­sor in the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy, the Cam­pus Neu­ro­science Pro­gram, the Beck­man Insti­tute, and the Direc­tor of the Art KramerBio­med­ical Imag­ing Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Illinois.

I am hon­ored to inter­view him today.

Dr. Kramer, thank you for your time. Let’ start by try­ing to clar­ify some exist­ing mis­con­cep­tions and con­tro­ver­sies. Based on what we know today, and your recent Nature piece (Note: ref­er­enced below), what are the 2–3 key lifestyle habits would you sug­gest to a per­son who wants to delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms and improve over­all brain health?

First, Be Active. Do phys­i­cal exer­cise. Aer­o­bic exer­cise, 30 to 60 min­utes per day 3 days per week, has been shown to have an impact in a vari­ety of exper­i­ments. And you don’t need to do some­thing stren­u­ous: even walk­ing has shown that effect. There are many open ques­tions in terms of spe­cific types of exer­cise, dura­tion, mag­ni­tude of effect but, as we wrote in our recent Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science arti­cle, there is lit­tle doubt that lead­ing a seden­tary life is bad for our cog­ni­tive health. Car­dio­vas­cu­lar exer­cise seems to have a pos­i­tive effect.

Sec­ond, Main­tain Life­long Intel­lec­tual Engage­ment. There is abun­dant prospec­tive obser­va­tional research show­ing that doing more men­tally stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties reduces the risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Let me add, given all media hype, that no “brain game” in par­tic­u­lar has been shown to have a long-term impact on Alzheimer’s or the main­te­nance of cog­ni­tion across extended peri­ods of time. It is too early for that-and con­sumers should be aware of that fact. It is true that some com­pa­nies are being more science-based than oth­ers but, in my view, the consumer-oriented field is grow­ing faster than the research is.

Ide­ally, com­bine both phys­i­cal and men­tal stim­u­la­tion along with social inter­ac­tions. Why not take a good walk with friends to dis­cuss a book? We lead very busy lives, so the more inte­grated and inter­est­ing activ­i­ties are, the more likely we will do them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Best of the Brain from Scientific American

Best of Brain, Scientific American

The Dana Foun­da­tion kindly sent us a copy of the great book Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, a col­lec­tion of 21 superb arti­cles pub­lished pre­vi­ously in Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. A very nicely edited and illus­trated book, this is a must for any­one who enjoys learn­ing about the brain and spec­u­lat­ing about what the future will bring us.

Some essays, like the ones by Eric Kan­del (The New Sci­ence of Mind), Fred Gage (Brain, Repair Your­self), Carl Zim­mer (The Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy of the Self) and that by Steven Hol­lon, Michael Thase and John Markowitz (Treat­ing Depres­sion: Pills or Talk), are both intel­lec­tual feasts and very rel­e­vant to brain fit­ness. And finally start­ing to per­co­late into main­stream consciousness.

Let me quote some quotes and reflec­tions as I was read­ing the book a cou­ple of days ago, in the court­yard of a beau­ti­ful French cafe in Berkeley:

1) On Brain Plas­tic­ity (the abil­ity of the brain to rewire itself), Fred Gage says: “Within the past 5 years, how­ever, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that the brain does indeed change through­out life-…The new cells and con­nec­tions that we and oth­ers have doc­u­mented may pro­vide the extra capac­ity the brain requires for the vari­ety of chal­lenges that indi­vid­u­als face through­out life. Such plas­tic­ity offers a pos­si­ble mech­a­nism through which the brain might be induced to repair itself after injury or dis­ease. It might even open the prospect of enhanc­ing an already healthy brain’s power to think and abil­ity to feel”

2)  and How Expe­ri­ence affects Brain Struc­ture: Under the sec­tion title “A Brain Work­out”, Fred Gage says “One of the mot strik­ing aspects of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (Note: the cre­ation of new neu­rons) is that expe­ri­ence can reg­u­late the rate of cell divi­sion, the sur­vival of new­born neu­rons and their abil­ity to inte­grate into the exist­ing neural circuits…The best way to aug­ment brain func­tion might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes.”

3) Biol­ogy of Mind: Eric Kan­del pro­vides a won­der­ful overview of the most Read the rest of this entry »

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