Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Update: The Future of Preventive Brain Medicine

Time for SharpBrains’ January 2012 eNewsletter, featuring in this occasion multiple thought-provoking perspectives on how emerging neuroscience can and should make us rethink prevailing practices in education, healthy aging and preventive medicine.


Featured Perspectives:

New Research: 



Finally, you may want to read our answers to the many excellent questions we received about the upcoming Online Course: How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach in 2012. 80 indi­vid­u­als have registered so far, rep­re­sent­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing diver­sity of back­grounds: health and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, edu­ca­tors, busi­ness exec­u­tives, traders, con­sul­tants, coaches, soft­ware engi­neers, ther­a­pists,  and more. Please remember that early-bird rates end on Tuesday, January 31st!

Have a great month of February.

Research: Does Nintendo Brain Age work as a brain training game?

A new study tries to, but unfortunately doesn’t, answer that question. Study: Brain Training Game Improves Executive Functions and Processing Speed in the Elderly: A Randomized Controlled Trial (PLoS ONE).

“Conclusions: Our results showed that playing Brain Age for 4 weeks could lead to improve cognitive functions (executive functions and processing speed) in the elderly. This result indicated that there is a possibility which the elderly could improve executive functions and processing speed in short term training. The results need replication in large samples. Long-term effects and relevance for every-day functioning remain uncertain as yet.” Read the rest of this entry »

Update: 15 FAQs on Neuroplasticity / Brain Plasticity

Here you have the October edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics.

We recently run an online survey among subscribers of our monthly eNewsletter, and over 500 people neuroplasticity faqssaid we have helped them make better personal or professional decisions on how to maintain and improve brain fitness. Respondents also had many good questions to ask, so I have selected 15 common ones, paraphrased/ synthesized them below, and answered them by linking to our most relevant posts and resources. I hope you enjoy the FAQ session.

Q: I teach a brain fitness class at my library/ senior center/ school, using much of your info. Can you share some of your presentations?
A: Yes, we have just decided to share, using a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives License, the full presentation of my recent book talk at New York Public Library (opens video in YouTube). As long as you give credit to SharpBrains and don’t modify it, you are free to use the presentation you can view and download HERE.

Q: What exactly does neuroplasticity neurons in actionmean, and why is it so important for education and health?
A: Start by reading how learning changes your brain.

Q. Is this only relevant for older adults? Can I also apply it in the workplace (I am 47)
A. I strongly suspect you do have a human brain, so you may benefit from these Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains. Further, HR departments would do well to start paying more attention to Cognitive Fitness and the Mature Workforce trends.

Q. I read so many conflicting things I don’t know where to start.
A. You are not alone. We should all be aware that It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Maintenance: Brain Care 101.

Q. How can my organization deliver brain fitness activities as a community service?
A. These articles will provide good guidelines and ideas: Retooling Use It or Lose It , and Public Libraries: Community-Based Health Clubs for the Brain.

Q. Everyone seems obsessed with brain games. What about meditation?
A. Check out Yes, You Can Build Willpower, and Mindfulness Meditation in Schools.

Q. Are software-based cognitive interventions effective?
A. As a category, it certainly seems so, as long as we ask the right questions, For Whom, For What?. For example, did you see this Science paper on how Cognitive Training Can Influence Dopamine System?.

Q. What about the trade-off between time invested vs benefits realized.
A. Efficiency and replicability of cognitive and brain-based outcomes seem to be, in fact, the strongest points of structured cognitive interventions. They seem to maximize the Cognitive Value of your Mental Workout.

Q. It sometimes looks like the whole field came out of nowhere, due to Nintendo Brain Age’s success, so we can’t be talking about something serious.

A: Nintendo did indeed create consumer awareness (for a product with little evidence) but “brain training” has solid roots in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, as you can read in our interview with Elkhonon Goldberg.

Q. What about neurofeedback?
A. After years of much clinical use and little solid evidence, several important trials have been published since 2009, showing how neurofeedback can help diagnose and treat ADHD patients, for example.

Q. How can one improve memory?

A. Well, the answer deserves a whole book, but we can offer some Tips to Improve Memory including Sleep, Practice and Testing.

Q. How can I brain fitness bookschoose one among the number of products making memory and brain claims?
A. We suggest you use this Evaluation checklist, and consider reading our consumer guide/ book.

Q. Any general tips for educators and lifelong learners?
A. Indeed, here you have these 10 Brain Tips to Teach and Learn.

Q. How can I keep track of all the new brain fitness market infographictrends, companies and products? Our health system/ insurer/ senior community/ venture firm/ company needs to make good decisions.
A. Well, that’s why we publish market research, such as the one summarized in this Infographic: State of the Market 2009 and also recently launched a professional Network for Brain Fitness Innovation.

Q: Thank you for all the information you provide…but what I want more of is… brain teasers!
A. Understood. We will make sure to offer more, but you can try, right now, these Top 50 Brain Teasers and continue with more recent puzzles and brain games.

Brain Training Market Talk, at MIT/ BoomerTech Series

We’ll have an exciting session in Palo Alto on October 6th, as part of the BoomerTech series organized by the MIT Club and SmartSilvers. Let me share the details now.

Fact or Fad: Who is Shaping the Brain Fitness Market?
Description: Lots of buzz … Perhaps you think that “Senior Moments” are an inevitable part of aging. MIT Club Northern CaliforniaBut research shows you may be able to keep your brain young and fit the same way you do your body, with exercise and training. With the success of Nintendo’s Brain Age, Posit Science and dozens of new software programs and games that promise “brain fitness”, the real question is: “Are we experiencing a fad, or an emerging new consumer market?”

Join our speaker, Alvaro Fernandez, author of the new book, The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness, and our expert panel to discuss:

* What are the top products on the market today?
* Can the emerging field of Brain fitness improve your job performance?
* How will consumers make informed decisions on what to buy and use?
* What are the emerging trends to leverage for entrepreneurs to jump into the marketplace?

Click Here to Register

Speaker, Panelist & Moderator

Alvaro Fernandez, SharpBrains — Alvaro is co-founder and CEO of SharpBrains, a leading market research firm that tracks the market and research for cognitive assessments, training, and games. A member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils, he has been quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and more, and recently co-authored the book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp. Alvaro received masters’ degrees in education and business from Stanford University, and teaches at UC-Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.


Roger Quy, General Partner, Technology Partners — Roger has been responsible for the life science practice of Technology Partners since 1989. He specializes in neurotechnology, investing in both biopharma and medical device companies. Roger began his career at the Queen Square Institute of Neurology, London where he was a Research Fellow for the British Medical Research Council. He developed and commercialized techniques for monitoring the brains of ambulatory patients. He contributed to a textbook on epilepsy and holds eight patents. Roger earned a BA with honors in psychology and law and a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Keele, England. He received an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jan Zivic, Founder, Vibrant Brains — Jan’s interest in Brain Fitness is very personal. She suffered a traumatic brain injury after an automobile accident several years ago, and experienced the concept of neuroplasticity first-hand as she rehabilitated from not being able to walk or think rationally to restoring much of her previous function.

Jan has served in a variety of leadership roles including: the Board of Directors of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where she currently serves as President of the Board, the Library Commission of SF, the California Executive Recruiters Association (its first female President), the Katherine Delmar Burke Independent School, and The Family Services Agency of SF – President of the Board. Jan was recognized as The SF Cable Car Awards “Woman of the Year,” and later as the recipient of the Maya Angelou Community Leadership Award, from the University of California, San Francisco Medical School’s Center Of Excellence.

Date: Tuesday, October 6, 2009


* 6:00PM Registration, Hors d’oeuvres and Networking
* 7:00PM Presentation and Panel Discussion


* $20.00 in advance on the website
* $25.00 Walk-ins at the door (cash or check please, no credit cards accepted at door)


Michael Sarfatti
tel 415-885-2293


Wilson Sonsini
950 Page Mill Road
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Click Here to Register

Brain Quiz: Do You Have a Brain?

Have you already read The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness?

Let’s see…brain health and brain fitness

1. Pick the only part of your body that does not contain fat:

a. Arm
b. Thigh
c. Brain
d. None

Answer: d) Fats are also present in the brain: in neurons’ membranes to keep them flexible. These fats are the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids molecules. (Page 32 of the book)

2. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain Omega-3 fatty acids

a. Tuna
b. Walnut
c. Kiwi
d. Jelly Beans

Answer: d) Fatty acids can be found in cold-water fish (such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and tuna), kiwi, and walnuts. (Page 33)

3. Pick the only food product that doesn’t contain antioxidants

a. Olive oil
b. Milk
c. Nuts
d. Berries

Answer: b) Antioxidants can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), citrus fruit, and berries. (Page 33)

4. Chronic Stress cannot:

a. Prevent you from being creative
b. Kill brain cells
c. Prevent you from sleeping
d. Kill liver cells

Answer: d) Prolonged exposure to adrenal steroid hormones like cortisol, which is released into the blood stream when we are stressed, can lead to cell death and block the formation of new neurons. (Page 35)

5. What type of physical exercise is the best for your brain health?

a. Weight lifting
b. Aerobic exercises
c. Flexibility exercises Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Teasers on Brain Training/ Games for Health Conference

Given the whole distracting “controversy” of whether Nintendo Brain Age “works” or not, I have started to use the following “brain teasers” in my talks in order to help the audience gain a more useful perspective of what is going on. They worked great both in the Medicare Readmissions Summit in DC a few weeks ago, and at the Games for Heath Conference last week.

Q: How many soldiers in the US Army have gone through computerized cognitive testing before being deployed, and why?
A: Over 150,000, in order to establish an objective starting baseline and identify potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) problems upon their return.

Q: How big is the ongoing investment by OptumHealth, a division of UnitedHealth Group (UNH), in developing computerized cognitive assessments to inform clinical decision-making?
A: over $6m.

Q: How many Allstate policy-holders over the age of 50 have received a computerized cognitive training program to improve their driving safety?
A: Over 8,000, in the state of Pennsylvania.

Q: How many residential communities are offering computerized cognitive training programs to their residents?
A: Over 700, in the US alone, covering independent and assisted living.

Q: How much money has the Government of Ontario invested in setting up a new Centre for Brain Fitness as part of Baycrest research center in order to develop and commercialize technologies to assess and enhance cognitive functions?
A: $10m, matched with another 10m from local investors.

For more on our Cognitive Health Track at Games for Health Conference last week, see this USA Today article:

More doctor’s prescriptions may include brain games to improve mental acuity

(pretty good overall, but please note that SharpBrains didn’t organize the whole conference, “only” the cognitive health track, which was a lot of stimulating fun. Ben Sawyer and team did overall conference).

Update: Learning about Learning/ more on Brain Age

Here you have the January edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive Brain Fitnesshealth and brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

Bird’s Eye View

Brain fitness heads towards its tipping point: How do you know when something is moving towards a Gladwellian tipping point? When health insurance companies and public policy makers launch significant initiatives. Dr. Gerard Finnemore provides a market overview, based on SharpBrains’ client webinar held last December.

Ten Reflections on Cognitive Health and Assessments: Here are 10 highlights from several stimulating January events:  Symposium on Adaptive Technology for the Aging (by Arizona State University), Health Bloggers’ Summit (by Consumer Reports), Traumatic Brain Injury (by Veteran Affairs in Palo Alto), and a new Alzheimer’s/ Dementia Expert Panel organized by the city of San Francisco.

News and Events

Nintendo Brain Age vs. Crossword Puzzles: we need much public education in order to help consumers separate reality from hope from hype. Nintendo is not helping, neither is media reporting.

Collection of recent news: including training for senior fitness trainers, reports on the importance of purpose,  on older driver safety, and more.

Upcoming events: I will be speaking soon at the New York Academy of Medicine, the American Society on Aging/ NCOA conference, and the Silvering Workforce Summit at the University of North Carolina. Let me know if you are attending any.

Education and Learning

Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin: Scott Barry Kaufman interviews “child prodigy” Joshua Waitzkin on The Art of Learning. Many fascinating insights, including “I think losing my first National Chess Championship was the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because it helped me avoid many of the psychological traps…(associated with being called a “child prodigy”)”.

Resources to help students build emotional intelligence: Daniel Goleman introduces educators and parents to a new book that “adds an important tool to the emotional intelligence kit: mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s internal state and external environment.”


Top 10 Cognitive Health and Brain Fitness Books: Here you have The 10 Most Popular Brain Fitness & Cognitive Health Books, based on book purchases by SharpBrains’ readers during 2008.

10-Question Program Evaluation Checklist: To help consumers and professionals navigate through the growing number of programs making “brain fitness” or “brain training” claims, we published last year this Evaluation Checklist. Now we are making the Checklist available as a Bookmark given recent requests by universities and conference organizers.

Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser to Exercise your Memory and Reasoning Skills: Dr. Pascale Michelon offers a stimulating teaser that not only helps exercise our brain but also educates us on how and why the same activity may exercise different brains differently – depending on where we are from.

Learn more & Register today at early-bird rates

2016 SharpBrains Virtual Summit: Reinventing Brain Health in the Digital Age

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking applied brain science. Explore our most popular resources HERE.

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