Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Kindle version of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness

Given the fact I love Kin­dle, and some of our Twit­ter friends had been ask­ing for a Kin­dle ver­sion of our new book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fitness…well, here it is:
Amazon.com: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (Kin­dle Edi­tion, $9.99)

The book has also received two excel­lent new endorsements:

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

The Sharp­Brains’ Guide to Brain Fit­ness helped answer many of my ques­tions on the impor­tance of both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise to stay sharp as we age, as they act in syn­ergy on one another. The Guide also pro­vided guide­lines and spe­cific calls to action to expand what we tra­di­tion­ally do in our fit­ness clubs. This is an impor­tant book for any­one in the fit­ness indus­try, and, for that mat­ter, for any­one with a brain.“
— Robin Klaus, Chair­man, Club One Fit­ness Centers

More infor­ma­tion on the book: The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fitness

Also: Book Club Dis­cus­sion Guide

Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

Think about this: 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? Which brain train­ing approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

We tried to address these ques­tions, and many oth­ers, in our recent book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­nessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (182 pages, $24.95), that we pre­sented at Games for Health Con­fer­ence last week. The book is the result of over two years of exten­sive research includ­ing more than a hun­dred inter­views with sci­en­tists, pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers, and a deep review of the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture, led by neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Elkhonon Gold­berg and myself with the help of cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Pas­cale Mich­e­lon. As we wrote in the Intro­duc­tion, what we wanted to do first of all was to debunks these 10 myths on brain health and brain training:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Facts: Life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­ity allows our lifestyles and actions to play a mean­ing­ful role in how our brains phys­i­cally evolve, espe­cially given longer life expectancy.

Myth 2. Aging means auto­matic decline.
Facts: There is noth­ing inher­ently fixed in the pre­cise tra­jec­tory of how brain func­tions evolve as we age.

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for cog­ni­tive enhance­ment.
Facts: Non-invasive inter­ven­tions can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable effects, side effect-free.

Myth 4. We will soon have a Magic Pill or Gen­eral Solu­tion to solve all our cog­ni­tive chal­lenges.
Facts: A multi-pronged approach is rec­om­mended, cen­tered around nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exercise.

Myth 5. There is only one “Use It or Lose it”.
Facts: The brain is com­posed of a num­ber of spe­cial­ized units. Our life and pro­duc­tiv­ity depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one.

Myth 6. All brain activ­i­ties or exer­cises are equal.
Facts: Var­ied and tar­geted exer­cises are the nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents in brain train­ing so that a wide range of brain func­tions can be stimulated.

Myth 7. There is only one way to train your brain.
Facts: Brain func­tions can be impacted in a num­ber of ways: through med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, cog­ni­tive training.

Myth 8. We all have some­thing called “Brain Age”.
Facts: Brain age is a fic­tion. No two indi­vid­u­als have the same brain or expres­sion of brain functions.

Myth 9. That “brain age”‚ can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain train­ing can improve spe­cific brain func­tions, but, with research avail­able today, can­not be said to roll back one “brain age”‚ by a num­ber of years.

Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain train­ing.
Facts: As in phys­i­cal fit­ness, users must ask them­selves: What func­tions do I need to improve on? In what time­frame? What is my budget?

Do you have other myths in mind you would like  us to address?

We have started to receive great feed­back from the health­care com­mu­nity, such as this email from a neu­ro­sur­geon in Texas:

I really like the book, it is com­pre­hen­sive with­out being too tech­ni­cal. I have rec­om­mended it to sev­eral patients. There are some other books that I expected would be greeted with enthu­si­asm, but were too com­plex for most of my patients. I think this book is right in the sweet spot”.

A short, sweet, enter­tain­ing read of a com­plex topic, with timely (writ­ten in 1/09) reviews of 21 top tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts, as well as informed and expert pre­dic­tions of where this bur­geon­ing brain-fitness field is headed. More impor­tantly, after you read it, you’ll have a good, detailed sense of where you, per­son­ally, can act to improve your own couch-potato brain — and how to keep it fit and flex­i­ble your whole life. The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness reminds of us all why books (and not just googling a topic) can be well worth your time and money. Two Stetho­scopes Up — check it out. life.”

And this great book review by an Internist Physi­cian and Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion Fel­low, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Potato?:

Doc Gur­ley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via Amazon.com Here, review copies avail­able upon request).

Descrip­tion: While most of us have heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” very few under­stand what it means, or how to prop­erly ‚“use it”‚¬ in order to main­tain brain func­tion and fit­ness. The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness is an invalu­able guide that helps read­ers nav­i­gate grow­ing brain research and iden­tify the lifestyle fac­tors and prod­ucts that con­tribute to brain health and fit­ness. By gath­er­ing insights from eigh­teen of the world’s top sci­en­tists and offer­ing tools and detailed descrip­tions of over twenty prod­ucts, this book is an essen­tial guide to the field of brain fit­ness, neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and cog­ni­tive health. An acces­si­ble and thought-provoking read, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness edu­cates life­long learn­ers and pro­fes­sion­als in health­care, edu­ca­tion, busi­ness, etc., on emerg­ing trends and fore­casts of what the future will hold.

Prod­ucts Reviewed (we reviewed sci­en­tific stud­ies pub­lished before Jan­u­ary 2009, when the man­u­script text was closed):

– Over­all brain main­te­nance: Brain Age series (Nin­tendo), Brain­Ware Safari (Learn­ing Enhance­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), FitBrains.com (Viv­ity Labs), Happy-Neuron.com (Sci­en­tific Brain Train­ing), Lumosity.com (Lumos Labs), Mind­Fit (Cog­niFit), (m)Power (Dakim)

– Tar­geted brain work­out: Clas­sic and InSight (Posit Sci­ence), Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing JM and RM (Cogmed), Dri­ve­Fit (Cog­niFit), Earo­bics (Houghton Mif­flin), Fast For­Word (Sci­en­tific Learn­ing), Intel­li­Gym (Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing), Vision Rest­pra­tion Ther­apy (NovaVision)

– Emo­tional self-regulation: emWave PC and Per­sonal Stress Reliever (Heart­Math), Jour­ney to the Wild Divine (Wild Divine), RES­PeR­ATE (Inter­Cure), StressEraser (Helicor)

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 »

Brain News: Lifelong Learning for Cognitive Health

Here you have the March edi­tion of our monthly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health Brain Fitnessand brain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, using the box at the top of this page. I know I am biased — but do believe this Newslet­ter issue might well be our best so far. I hope you find the time to enjoy it!

Bird’s Eye View

Top Arti­cles and Resources in March: High­lights — a) great arti­cles in SciAm Mind and the Wall Street Jour­nal, b) new resources (book and free DVD) by the Dana Foun­da­tion, c) research stud­ies on how our cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties tend to evolve as we age, the impact of phys­i­cal exer­cise on the brain, the lack of long-term effec­tive­ness of ADHD drugs, and how work­ing mem­ory train­ing may ben­e­fit math performance.

Brain Fit­ness Sur­vey: Over 2,000 thought­ful responses to our Jan­u­ary sur­vey (Thank You!) rein­force the need for pub­lic aware­ness ini­tia­tives and qual­ity infor­ma­tion to help eval­u­ate and nav­i­gate lifestyle and prod­uct claims, as well as the need for more research, an expanded health­care cul­ture, as more. Given this con­text, we are pub­lish­ing The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness in May 2009, a book with 18 Inter­views with Sci­en­tists, Prac­ti­cal Advice, and Prod­uct Reviews, in addi­tion to our annual mar­ket report for pro­fes­sion­als and exec­u­tives (to be pub­lished in April). If you have ideas to help us pro­mote the book, please reply to this email and let us know!

Life­long Learning

Elderhostel’s Marty Knowl­ton dies at 88: He helped launch Elder­hos­tel, rein­vented “aging”, “retire­ment” and “learn­ing”, and con­tributed to the brain fit­ness of mil­lions of indi­vid­u­als as a result.

MetLife Mature Mar­ket Insti­tute Report: Geron­tol­o­gist Fay Radding presents the find­ings of a recent MetLife report, con­clud­ing that “As indi­vid­u­als age, mean­ing­ful inter­ac­tions and pur­pose­ful activ­ity become even more val­ued and cru­cial to cog­ni­tive health– and cog­ni­tive health itself becomes more of a priority.”

Change Your Envi­ron­ment, Change Your­self: Dr. Brett Steen­barger explains in his recent book that, “The great­est enemy of change is rou­tine. When we lapse into rou­tine and oper­ate on autopi­lot, we are no longer fully and actively con­scious of what we’re doing and why. That is why some of the most fer­tile sit­u­a­tions for per­sonal growth those that occur within new envi­ron­ments are those that force us to exit our rou­tines and actively mas­ter unfa­mil­iar challenges.”

Food for Thought

Michael Merzenich: Brain Plas­tic­ity offers Hope for Every­one: Dr. Gin­ger Camp­bell recently inter­viewed Dr. Michael Merzenich. Pod­cast Quote: “What­ever you strug­gle with in a sense as it stems from your neu­rol­ogy, the inher­ent plas­tic­ity of the brain gives you a basis for improve­ment. This is a way under­uti­lized and under-appreciated resource that well all have.”

Ther­apy vs. Med­ica­tion, Con­flicts of Inter­est, and Intim­i­da­tion: What started as an aca­d­e­mic dis­pute regard­ing dis­clo­sure of con­flict of inter­est is now snow­balling. Dr. Jonathan Leo crit­i­cized two impor­tant aspects of a recent a study pub­lished in JAMA that com­pared the effi­cacy of ther­apy vs. med­ica­tion. JAMA edi­tors then tried to intim­i­date Dr. Leo and his uni­ver­sity. An inves­ti­ga­tion by the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion is under way.

ETech09 on Life Hack­ing and Brain Train­ing: Here you have the pre­sen­ta­tion Alvaro Fer­nan­dez deliv­ered at O’Reilly Emerg­ing Tech­nol­ogy Con­fer­ence 2009, a gath­er­ing of tech­nol­ogy pio­neers with a grow­ing inter­est in sci­ence and biol­ogy topics.

Atten­tion!

Dis­tracted in the Work­place?: In a very-thoughtful 2-part inter­view (part 1 here, part 2 here), author Mag­gie Jack­son chal­lenges us to “First, ques­tion the val­ues that ven­er­ate McThink­ing and under­mine attention.”

New Study Sup­ports Neu­ro­feed­back Treat­ment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promis­ing find­ings from the first well-designed con­trolled trial on the effect of neu­ro­feed­back treat­ment for ADHD.

Twit­ter

Finally, I wanted to let you know that you can fol­low quick Sharp­Brains updates and some of my thoughts via Twit­ter: http://twitter.com/AlvaroF

Have a great National Car Care Month in April! (now, wouldn’t you please pay at least equal atten­tion to Brain Care than to Car Care?)

Gardening your hippocampus with Physical and Mental Exercise

Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Improves Spa­tial Mem­ory, Increases Size Of Brain Struc­ture (Sci­ence Daily)

- “Now researchers have found that elderly adults who are more phys­i­cally fit tend to have big­ger hip­pocampi and bet­ter spa­tial mem­ory than those who are less fit.”

- “Cer­tain activ­i­ties are believed to mod­ify hip­pocam­pus size in humans. For exam­ple, a study of Lon­don taxi dri­vers found that the pos­te­rior por­tion of the hip­pocam­pus was larger in expe­ri­enced taxi dri­vers than in other sub­jects. And a study of Ger­man med­ical stu­dents found that the same region of the hip­pocam­pus increased in size as they stud­ied for their final exams.”

- “Stud­ies also have found that the hip­pocam­pus shrinks with age, a process that coin­cides with small but sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive declines. The rate at which this occurs, how­ever, dif­fers among individuals.”

Related arti­cles:

Phys­i­cal Exer­cise and Brain Health

Brain Plas­tic­ity: How learn­ing changes your brain

Cars don’t work because they don’t fly

Study Ques­tions Effec­tive­ness Of $80 Mil­lion Per Year ‘Brain Exer­cise Prod­ucts Indus­try for Elderly (Sci­ence Daily)

- “There is much research on the ben­e­fits of cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion strate­gies among elderly who already expe­ri­ence mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s dis­ease, as well as on the pos­i­tive impact of phys­i­cal exer­cise. The researchers, how­ever, wanted to eval­u­ate cur­rent research that would focus on the impact of cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions in the healthy elderly population.”

- “…they con­cluded that there was no evi­dence indi­cat­ing that struc­tured cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion pro­grams had an impact on the pro­gres­sion of demen­tia in the healthy elderly population”

Com­ment:  we have not reviewed the analy­sis yet, so can­not com­ment in depth. How­ever, just from the press release, we see a few poten­tial prob­lems in how the study was framed, reduc­ing its prac­ti­cal value: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Games and Training for Baby Boomers: News Round-Up

Round-up of recent news with a vari­ety of angles, from the effects of Brain Health Newsgam­ing to cog­ni­tive train­ing for dri­ving skills and brain fit­ness classes.

Seniors use brain train­ing soft­ware to sharpen their minds (Dal­las Morn­ing News)

- “All­state Insur­ance has invited some pol­i­cy­hold­ers and other older dri­vers to try InSight so researchers can eval­u­ate whether the soft­ware reduces accidents.”

- “Depend­ing on the results, the auto insurer says it may expand the pilot project and offer pre­mium dis­counts to dri­vers who take the brain training.”

- “Today, only one in seven licensed dri­vers is 65 or older. But by 2030, when the last of the boomers turn 65, the pro­por­tion will be one in four. ”

Brain games (Palo Alto Weekly)

- “There is research that jus­ti­fies the belief that games can aid the brain’s health, accord­ing to Dr. Wal­ter Bortz II, a Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity School of Med­i­cine asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and expert on longevity and robust aging. Stud­ies show that stim­u­lat­ing the brain by learn­ing new tasks increases blood fac­tors in the brain that act like steroids, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the brain to grow even in old age

- “Called “brain plas­tic­ity,” such growth is the foun­da­tion of brain-fitness soft­ware research.”

Brain Fit­ness Classes Keep Seniors Men­tally And Socially Active (Wash­ing­ton Post)

- “More options for exer­cis­ing the brain are on the way. Last year, the Ontario gov­ern­ment pledged about $8 mil­lion to develop a brain fit­ness cen­ter in Toronto. In San Fran­cisco, Jan Zivic, a for­mer exec­u­tive search con­sul­tant, opened a cen­ter, vibrant­Brains, that offers mem­ory improve­ment classes and work­shops. Zivic was inspired by help she got from brain fit­ness games she played after being injured in an auto­mo­bile accident.”

The 15 Clear­est Ben­e­fits of Gam­ing (Edge Magazine)

-“But Fer­nan­dez warns that the gamer gen­er­a­tion isn’t auto­mat­i­cally guar­an­teed to have bet­ter cog­ni­tive health than their grand­par­ents. Cog­ni­tive fit­ness (hav­ing the men­tal abil­i­ties required to thrive in cog­ni­tively more com­plex envi­ron­ments) seems to depend on four major pil­lars: nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and men­tal exer­cise. All these fac­tors have phys­i­cal effects on our brains (for exam­ple, phys­i­cal exer­cise con­tributes to the cre­ation of new neu­rons, while stress and anx­i­ety pre­vents and/or reduces the cre­ation of new neu­rons). The bad news is that we have grow­ing obe­sity rates and anx­i­ety among young peo­ple. So, games are great for men­tal exer­cise, but we shouldn’t for­get the other ingre­di­ents for cog­ni­tive fitness.

- “Fer­nan­dez muses, Indeed fun can be seen as a goal in itself . The prob­lem is that we con­fuse gam­ing as a vehi­cle with gam­ing as con­tent. Gam­ing as vehi­cle is arguably great it allows for inter­ac­tiv­ity, engage­ment. Gam­ing as con­tent, well, it depends. It is not the same to play a bloody shooter game as it is to Tetris or Rise of Nations, so the field should do a bet­ter job at explain­ing to main­stream soci­ety the diver­sity of games and dis­pel some myths.

More Brain Fit­ness and Cog­ni­tive Health News

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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.
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