Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Meditation and The Brain

Superb blog arti­cle by Newsweek’s Sharon Beg­ley: The Lotus and the Synapse, intro­duc­ing a new Study that shows com­pas­sion med­i­ta­tion changes the brain.

To read the orig­i­nal paper led by Richard David­son and Antoine Lutz, click Here. We will be cov­er­ing this in more detail next week.

Brain Fitness/ Training Newsletter: January Edition

Brain exercise, brain exercisesAs we have been doing for the last 6 months, here you are have the Monthly Digest of our Most Pop­u­lar Blog Posts. You can con­sider it your monthly Brain Fitness/ Train­ing Newsletter.

(Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our blog RSS feed, or to our monthly newslet­ter at the top of this page if you want to receive this Monthly Digest by email).

Let me first intro­duce our new ros­ter of Expert Con­trib­u­tors, high­light­ing first an arti­cle by Duke University’s Dr. David Rabiner, a lead­ing author­ity on atten­tion deficits and author of the Atten­tion Research Update newslet­ter, on the “promis­ing, yet unproven” value of neu­ro­feed­back for atten­tion deficits: How Strong is the Research Sup­port for Neu­ro­feed­back.

Two other great arti­cles by our Expert Con­trib­u­tors this month:

Look­ing inside the Brain: cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon intro­duces us to the world of neu­roimag­ing and build­ing men­tal reserves.

Med­i­ta­tion in Schools: thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine, we offer an excel­lent arti­cle on the emerg­ing trend of schools using med­i­ta­tion to help stu­dents man­age anx­i­ety and stress.

The fol­low­ing Expert Con­trib­u­tors will be fea­tured in Feb­ru­ary, so make sure to visit our blog often:

- Wes Car­roll, Puz­zle Mas­ter for Ask a Sci­en­tist lec­ture series.

- Simon Evans, PhD., and Paul Burghardt, PhD., from Uni­ver­sity of Michigan’s Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try and the Mol­e­c­u­lar and Behav­ioral Neu­ro­science Institute.

- Gre­gory Kel­lett, mas­ters in Cog­ni­tive Neurology/Research Psy­chol­ogy from SFSU and researcher at UCSF.

- Joanne Jacobs, edu­ca­tion expert and blog­ger, will par­tic­i­pate in the “Sharp­Brains Author Speaks Series” to present her most recent book.

- Eric Jensen, well-known resource on brain research infor­ma­tion with impli­ca­tions for K12 education.

- Tom O’Brien, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus in Math­e­mat­ics edu­ca­tion and author of prize-winning games.

- Adrian Preda, M.D., Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Human Behav­ior at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

- Joshua Stein­er­man, M.D., Post­doc­toral Clin­i­cal Fel­low in the Depart­ment of Neu­rol­ogy at Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity Med­ical Center.

Brain Fit­ness and Sharp­Brains in the News

Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Trends (Jan­u­ary 3rd): Sci­en­tific Learn­ing Corp. (cog­ni­tive train­ing for chil­dren with dislexia and read­ing dif­fi­cul­ties) acquires Solil­o­quy Learn­ing, and Paris-based Sci­en­tific Brain Train­ing acquires Tech­no­me­dia, a Cana­dian provider of cor­po­rate training.

More News on the Field (Jan­u­ary 14th): Posit Sci­ence (audi­tory pro­cess­ing train­ing) acquires Visual Aware­ness, Inc (visual pro­cess­ing train­ing for dri­ving skills, used in ACTIVE tri­als). Cogmed announces work­ing mem­ory train­ing for adults. Nature Neu­ro­science brings great resources on the clas­sic Lon­don Taxi Dri­vers study. The 2008 Mind & Life Sum­mer Research Insti­tute starts accept­ing appli­ca­tions by researchers inter­ested in study­ing the effects of med­i­ta­tion on the brain.

Sharp­Brains Fea­tured in Newsweek & Fox Busi­ness Net­work (Jan­u­ary 19th): sev­eral great arti­cles on the emerg­ing brain fitness/ train­ing field. New Sci­en­tist (subscription-only) pro­vides a broad pic­ture of the research. Newsweek kindly invites read­ers to “check out, which pro­motes science-based cog­ni­tive train­ing”. Fox Busi­ness Net­work includes our mar­ket esti­mates of $225 mil­lion for the whole brain fit­ness soft­ware field in 2007 in the US. The New York Times has a great arti­cle on the value of music training.

Is Your Brain Ready To Drink Cheap Wine?: Prof. Baba Shiv, one of our advi­sors, pub­lished a fas­ci­nat­ing paper on the power of our beliefs to influ­ence brain acti­va­tion, and on how mar­ket­ing can influ­ence those beliefs.

Sharpen Your Brain to Improve Per­for­mance, Lower Stress (sub­scrip­tion required): Nicholas Genes from Med­scape inter­views me on the back­ground behind cog­ni­tive fit­ness and

Health and Wellness

It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Main­te­nance: If we can all agree on the impor­tance of main­tain­ing our cars that get us around town, what about main­tain­ing our brains sit­ting behind the wheel?.

Grand Rounds: Brief­ing the Next US Pres­i­dent on 40 Health Issues: we hosted an open let­ter to the “Next US Pres­i­dent”, gath­er­ing the ques­tions and impres­sions of 40 health and med­ical blog­gers. We will do the same on Edu­ca­tion issues on Feb­ru­ary 20th-see below.

Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Clin­i­cal Trial: Seek­ing Older Adults:  Neu­ro­sci­en­tists at Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity Med­ical Cen­ter asked for help in recruit­ing vol­un­teers for an excit­ing clin­i­cal trial. If you are based in New York City, and between the ages of 60 and 75, please con­sider join­ing this study.

10 Brain Fit­ness New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions: prob­a­bly a bit late…but con­tains poten­tial New Years Res­o­lu­tions with the three prin­ci­ples of brain fit­ness in mind — nov­elty, vari­ety and challenge.


Inter­view with Robert Syl­wester on The Ado­les­cent Brain: Dr. Robert Syl­wester is an edu­ca­tor of edu­ca­tors, hav­ing received mul­ti­ple awards dur­ing his long career as a mas­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tor of the impli­ca­tions of brain sci­ence research for edu­ca­tion and learn­ing. Enjoy this interview.

Don’t Out­source Your Brain: nei­ther to other peo­ple… nor to your GPS sys­tem. Funny, true story.

Feb­ru­ary 20th Blog Car­ni­val of edu­ca­tion: we will host this edi­tion and present it as an open let­ter to the “Next US Pres­i­dent”, gath­er­ing the ques­tions and impres­sions of a num­ber of edu­ca­tion bloggers.


20 Brain Plas­tic­ity Books: we just changed a few things in our site, includ­ing prepar­ing a more solid Resources sec­tion. Please take a look at the nav­i­ga­tion bar at the top, includ­ing an expanded Books page.

PBS Brain Fit­ness DVD: the PBS shop is already sell­ing DVDs of its great Decem­ber spe­cial on Brain Fit­ness and Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity.

Brain Teasers

Mon­keys and Brain Games: did you read about the recent exper­i­ment where young chimps dis­played amaz­ing visual work­ing mem­ory capa­bil­ity, beat­ing humans? you can release your com­pet­i­tive juices here.

Brain Exer­cises for the Week­end: Har­riet Vines, Ph.D., an expe­ri­enced author and retired col­lege pro­fes­sor, sends us a few fun brain exer­cises to train our atten­tion and work­ing memory.

Events and Speak­ing Engage­ments (more details in our Speak­ing page)

» Feb. 2th: I will lead a Work­shop on Brain Fit­ness: The Sci­ence and Prac­tice, spon­sored by San Jose State University’s Osher Life­long Learn­ing Institute.

» Feb. 7th: will speak on “Sharp­en­ing Minds through Com­put­er­ized Cog­ni­tive and Emo­tional Train­ing Pro­grams,” at the Learn­ing & The Brain Con­fer­ence.

» Feb. 12th: will speak on The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket: Build­ing Bet­ter Brains: spon­sored by The MIT Club of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging, The Busi­ness Forum on Aging and Smart­Sil­vers, we will cover how “Sci­en­tific, tech­no­log­i­cal and demo­graphic trends have con­verged to cre­ate an excit­ing new mar­ket in brain fit­ness, where soft­ware and online appli­ca­tions can assess and train cog­ni­tive abilities.”

» March 4th: I will be a pan­elist on how to Use Your Head-The Future of Mind Hacks, at O’Reilly Emerg­ing Tech­nol­ogy Conference.

» March 27th, 2008: will present an Overview of Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Research and Pro­grams, at the NCOA/ ASA Aging in Amer­ica Con­fer­ence.

David Pescovitz, Research Direc­tor, Insti­tute for the Future, says “Alvaro Fer­nan­dez syn­the­sizes and trans­lates the lat­est neu­ro­science into provoca­tive, com­pelling, and enter­tain­ing sto­ries of men­tal fit­ness and the future of the brain.” Please con­tact us, sim­ply respond­ing to this email, if your orga­ni­za­tion is inter­ested in learn­ing more about Brain and Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness and this emerg­ing field.

All feed­back and con­tri­bu­tions are wel­come, too. Please leave your com­ments below.

Brain Training: No Magic Bullet, Yet Useful Tool. Interview with Elizabeth Zelinski

Sharon Beg­ley, Newsweek’s sci­ence reporter, recently wrote that

- “With the nation’s 78 mil­lion baby boomers approach­ing the age of those dreaded ‘“where did I leave my keys?” moments, it’s no won­der the mar­ket for computer-based brain train­ing has shot up from essen­tially zero in 2005 to $80 mil­lion this year, accord­ing to the con­sult­ing firm SharpBrains.

- “Now comes the largest and most rig­or­ous study of a commercially-available train­ing pro­gram, and it shows that there is hope for aging brains. This morn­ing, at the meet­ing of the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­ica, sci­en­tists are pre­sent­ing data show­ing that after eight weeks of daily one-hour ses­sions with Brain Fit­ness 2.0 from Posit Sci­ence, elderly vol­un­teers got mea­sur­ably bet­ter in their brain’s speed and accu­racy of processElizabeth Zelinski IMPACTing.

We recently had the chance to inter­view Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski of the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Andrus Geron­tol­ogy Cen­ter, who led the IMPACT (Improve­ment in Mem­ory with Plasticity-based Adap­tive Cog­ni­tive Train­ing) Study Sharon Beg­ley refers to in the quote above.

First, some con­text on this study, which is by far the largest high-quality study of its kind. The study was prospec­tive, ran­dom­ized, con­trolled, and used a dou­ble blind trial. 524 healthy adults 65-year-old and over were divided into two groups. One received an hour a day of train­ing for eight to ten weeks, and the other spent the same amount of time watch­ing edu­ca­tional DVDs. The IMPACT study, funded by Posit Sci­ence cor­po­ra­tion, was per­formed in mul­ti­ple loca­tions, includ­ing the Mayo Clinic, USCF, and San Fran­cisco Vet­eran Affairs Med­ical Center.

The dis­cus­sion cen­ters at his point on the ini­tial results that were pre­sented Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­ica (the study hasn’t been pub­lished yet).

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Dr. Zelin­ski. Thank you for being with us. Could you start by set­ting the con­text and pro­vid­ing an overview of how human cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties typ­i­cally evolve as we age based on insights from your Long Beach Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study?

Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski: Of course. The first con­cept to under­stand is that dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive skills evolve over the lifes­pan in dif­fer­ent ways. Some that rely on expe­ri­ence, such as vocab­u­lary, actu­ally improve as we age. Some tend to decline grad­u­ally, start­ing in our late 20s. This hap­pens, for exam­ple, with pro­cess­ing speed (how long it takes us to process and respond to infor­ma­tion), mem­ory, and rea­son­ing. We could sum­ma­rize this phe­nom­e­non by say­ing that as we age we get bet­ter at deal­ing with the famil­iar, but worse at deal­ing with the new. We can always learn, but at a slower pace.

Are there any spe­cific tip­ping or inflec­tion points in this trend, any age when the rate of decline is more pronounced?

We don’t have a clear answer to that. It depends a lot on the indi­vid­ual. In gen­eral it is a grad­ual, cumu­la­tive process, so that by age 70 we sta­tis­ti­cally see clear age declines. Which, for exam­ple, is a strong fac­tor deter­min­ing why older adults strug­gle to adapt to new tech­nolo­gies, but why try­ing to learn them pro­vides needed men­tal stim­u­la­tion. Now we know that genes only account for a por­tion of this decline. Much of it depends on our envi­ron­ment, lifestyle and actions.

Can you sum­ma­rize what a healthy indi­vid­ual can do to slow down this process of decline, and help stay healthy and pro­duc­tive as long as possible?

One gen­eral rec­om­men­da­tion is to do every­thing we can to pre­vent or delay dis­ease processes, such as dia­betes or high-blood pres­sure, that have a neg­a­tive effect on our brains. For exam­ple, it is a tragedy in our soci­ety that we usu­ally reduce our lev­els of phys­i­cal exer­cise dras­ti­cally after we leave school.

Let me then ask: what are the rel­a­tive virtues of phys­i­cal vs. men­tal exercise?

Great ques­tion! That in fact leads into my sec­ond rec­om­men­da­tion. Aer­o­bic exer­cise has been shown to Read the rest of this entry »

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