Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Promoting Healthy, Meaningful Aging Through Social Involvement: Building an Experience Corps

(Editor’s note: Path­ways respon­si­ble for higher-order think­ing in the pre­frontal cor­tex (PFC), or exec­u­tive cen­ter of the brain, remain vul­ner­a­ble through­out life—during crit­i­cal early-life devel­op­men­tal win­dows, when the PFC fully matures in the early 20s, and finally from declines asso­ci­ated with old age. At all ages, phys­i­cal activ­ity and PFC-navigated social con­nec­tions are essen­tial com­po­nents to main­tain­ing brain health. The Expe­ri­ence Corps, a community-based social-engagement pro­gram, part­ners seniors with local schools to pro­mote purpose-driven involve­ment. Par­tic­i­pat­ing seniors have exhib­ited imme­di­ate short-term gains in brain regions vul­ner­a­ble to aging, such as the PFC, indi­cat­ing that peo­ple with the most to lose have the most to gain from envi­ron­men­tal enrichment.)

Over the last decade, sci­en­tists made two key dis­cov­er­ies that reframed our under­stand­ing of the adult brain’s poten­tial to ben­e­fit from life­long envi­ron­men­tal enrich­ment. First, they learned that the adult brain remains plas­tic; it can gen­er­ate new neu­rons in response to phys­i­cal activ­ity and new expe­ri­ences. Sec­ond, they con­firmed the impor­tance of social con­nect­ed­ness to late-life cog­ni­tive, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and phys­i­cal health. The inte­gra­tion of these find­ings with our under­stand­ing of indi­vid­u­als’ devel­op­men­tal needs through­out life under­scores the impor­tance of the “social brain.” The pre­frontal cor­tex (PFC) is par­tic­u­larly inte­gral to nav­i­gat­ing com­plex social behav­iors and hier­ar­chies over the life course. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brain Grows With Practice…and Then Shrinks Back to Normal.

If you prac­tice biceps curls at the gym, you will get big­ger mus­cles that are also stronger. So far, the same seemed true for the brain. Thanks to neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, prac­tice trig­gers neu­ronal and synap­tic growth (i.e., brain vol­ume growth), which cor­re­lates with bet­ter per­for­mance. In this fas­ci­nat­ing Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can arti­cle we learn that as the brain mas­ters a new skill, some brain areas do get big­ger but even­tu­ally shrink back to nor­mal! The per­for­mance gain acquired through prac­tice stays present, in spite of the shrinkage.

Study­ing the audi­tory cor­tex of rats, they found that the expan­sion of a ‘skill-specific’ brain area with train­ing is only short lived, even when changes in abil­ity are long lasting.

So what does change? Although newly learned per­cep­tual skills don’t show up in a bird’s eye view of the cor­tex, they must have some neu­ro­bi­o­log­i­cal basis. Kil­gard sug­gests that learn­ing prob­a­bly results from a few par­si­mo­nious tweaks at a more micro­scopic level, Read the rest of this entry »

Debunking 10 Cognitive Health and Fitness Myths

As part of the research behind the book The Sharp­Brains Guide for Brain Fit­ness we inter­viewed dozens of lead­ing cog­ni­tive health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and experts world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have a num­ber of take-aways to report.

What Santiago Ramon y Cajal can we clearly say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­ago Ramon y Cajal claimed in the XX cen­tury, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”, may well become real­ity in the XXI.

And trans­form Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process, since Read the rest of this entry »

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains — Time for Brain Fitness Resolutions?

Given many of us are start­ing to pre­pare New Year Res­o­lu­tions, let’s revisit one of Sharp­Brains’ most popular-ever arti­cles that can help us all refine our Brain Fit­ness Res­o­lu­tions

The Ten Habits of Highly Effec­tive Brains

  1. Learn what is the “It” in “Use It or Lose It”. A basic under­stand­ing will serve you well to appre­ci­ate your brain’s beauty as a liv­ing and constantly-developing dense for­est with bil­lions of neu­rons and synapses.
  2. Take care of your nutri­tion. Did you know that Read the rest of this entry »

Walking increases brain volume and reduces risks of decline

In the lat­est issue of Neu­rol­ogy a study by Erick­son et al. (2010) sug­gests that walk­ing reg­u­larly can increase brain vol­ume and reduce the risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment.

The researchers stared with 2 mains facts:

They asked 2 questions:

  • Can phys­i­cal activ­ity assessed ear­lier pre­dict gray mat­ter vol­ume 9 years later?
  • Is greater gray mat­ter vol­ume asso­ci­ated with reduced risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impairment?

Read the rest of this entry »

References on Cognitive Health/ Brain Fitness

This is a par­tial list of the lit­er­a­ture we reviewed dur­ing the research phase of our new book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness.  We know many friends of Sharp­Brains are researchers, health­care pro­fes­sion­als, graduate/ Ph.D. stu­dents, who want have direct access to the ref­er­ences (per­haps PubMed should pro­mote itself as a never end­ing source of men­tal stim­u­la­tion?), so here you have this list, orga­nized by rel­e­vant chap­ter. Please note that the list below appears in the book — whose man­u­script we had to close in Jan­u­ary 2009.

Intro­duc­tion

Basak, C. et al. (2008). Can train­ing in a real-time strat­egy video game atten­u­ate cog­ni­tive decline in older adults? Psy­chol­ogy and Aging.
Beg­ley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new sci­ence reveals our extra­or­di­nary poten­tial to trans­form our­selves. Bal­lan­tine Books.
DeKosky, S. T., et al. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for pre­ven­tion of demen­tia: a ran­dom­ized con­trolled trial. Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion, 300, 2253–2262.
Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain that changes itself: Sto­ries of per­sonal tri­umph from the fron­tiers of brain sci­ence. Viking Adult.

Chap­ter 1. The Brain and Brain Fit­ness 101

Bunge, S. A., & Wright, S. B. (2007). Neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal changes in work­ing mem­ory and cog­ni­tive con­trol. Cur­rent Opin­ion In Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy, 17(2), 243–50.
Dama­sio, A. (1995). Descartes error: Emo­tion, rea­son, and the human brain. Pen­guin Press.
David Kolb, D. (1983). Expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing: Expe­ri­ence as the source of learn­ing and devel­op­ment. FT Press.
Dra­gan­ski, B., Gaser, C., Kem­per­mann, G., Kuhn, H. G., Win­kler, J., Buchel, C., & May A. (2006). Tem­po­ral and spa­tial dynam­ics of brain struc­ture changes dur­ing exten­sive learn­ing. The Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science, 261231, 6314–6317.
Gage, F. H., Kem­per­mann, G., & Song, H. (2007). Adult Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Cold Spring Har­bor Lab­o­ra­tory Press, NY.
Gard­ner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The the­ory of mul­ti­ple intel­li­gences. New York: Basic Books.
Gaser, C. & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain struc­tures dif­fer between musi­cians and non-musicians. The Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science, 23, 9240–9245. Read the rest of this entry »

Maintain Your Brain and Stay Sharp: An Upcoming Guide and Resource

You may be read­ing all about brain fit­ness and brain train­ing. It seems every week brings a new bar­rage of arti­cles and stud­ies which often con­tra­dict what you read the month before: Does Gingko Biloba help delay Alzheimer’s Dis­ease? Can phys­i­cal exer­cise help you stay sharp as you age? Which computer-based “brain fit­ness pro­grams”, if any, are worth your money?

All this cov­er­age reflects very excit­ing sci­en­tific find­ings but also poses a key dilemma: How to become an informed life­long learner and con­sumer when there are few and con­tra­dic­tory author­i­ta­tive guidelines?

The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (to be pub­lished in May 2009; $24.95) aims to fill that void. This guide is the result of over a year of exten­sive research includ­ing more than a hun­dred inter­views with sci­en­tists, pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers, and a deep lit­er­a­ture review. Below you have some of the main find­ings from our effort. The guide not only cov­ers these aspects in more depth and offers prac­ti­cal guid­ance, but also includes 18 inter­views with promi­nent sci­en­tists to help you under­stand the research better.

Can we intro­duce you to your Brain?

The Guide will start at the obvi­ous start­ing point: The Human Brain. In order to make informed deci­sions about brain health, one needs to first under­stand the basic orga­ni­za­tion of the human brain and how it tends to change as we get older.

* The brain is com­posed of a num­ber of regions serv­ing dis­tinct func­tions. For­get IQ: our life and pro­duc­tiv­ity depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one.

* There is noth­ing inher­ently fixed in the tra­jec­tory of how brain func­tions evolve as we age. Your lifestyle, actions, and even thoughts, do matter.

The 4 Pil­lars of Brain Maintenance

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity is the life­long capac­ity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stim­u­la­tion of learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. The lat­est sci­en­tific research shows that spe­cific lifestyles and actions can, no mat­ter our age, improve the health and level of func­tion­ing of our brains.

What fac­tors seem to have the most influ­ence? Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to SharpBrains.com

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, CNN and more, Sharp­Brains is an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well­ness appli­ca­tions of brain science.
FIRST-TIME VISITOR? Dis­cover HERE the most pop­u­lar resources at SharpBrains.com

Follow us via

twitter_logo_header
Enter Your Email and Sub­scribe to our free Monthly eNewslet­ter:
Join more than 50,000 Sub­scribers and stay informed and engaged.