Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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 »

When early retirement equals mental retirement and memory decline

The New-York Times reports on the study published a few days ago in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Mental retirement”:

… Data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggest that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

… what aspect of work is doing that, Dr. Suzman said. “Is it the social engagement and interaction or the cognitive component of work, or is it the aerobic component of work?” he asked. “Or is it the absence of what happens when you retire, which could be increased TV watching?”

Comments: This new study is another piece of evidence accumulating with more and more others suggesting that a brain healthy life-style requires constant cognitive challenge to help maintain high-level cognitive functions. Whether it is speaking multiple languages, physically exercising or staying mentally active, our everyday life can positively impact our brain health.  Something to keep in mind after retirement…and to even retire the word “retirement”!

The results are also intriguing because working combines multiple aspects of a brain-healthy lifestyle (social engagement, mental stimulation) with aspects not so good for the brain (stress, absence of physical exercise in some cases). However, it seems that, overall, the good aspects of working take over the bad ones as far as memory functions are concerned.

Fitter bodies = fitter brains. True at all ages?

The results of recently published studies suggest that fitter children also have fitter brains. It looks like exer­cis­ing your body pro­motes brain health. Is this true at all ages? How does it work? How much exercise should we do?

Physical activity and brain health in children

An emerging literature suggests that physical activity and high levels of aerobic fitness during childhood  may enhance cognition. In the 2 most recent studies by Kramer and colleagues (2010), the cognitive performance and the brains of higher-fit and lower-fit 9- and 10-year-old children were examined.

In one study, fitter children did better than less fit children in a task requiring to ignore irrelevant information and attend to relevant cues. Fitter children also had larger basal ganglia (more specifically dorsal striatum) than less fit children. The basal ganglia play a key role in cognitive control (e.g. preparing, initiating, inhibiting, switching responses).

In another study, fitter children did better than less fit children in a task requiring to memorize information. Read the rest of this entry »

The SharpBrains Guide Book Tour!

After a surprisingly calm summer, I am getting my brain, throat, and presentation, ready for the book tour to promote The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The tour includes two talks at New York Public Library!

These are the events during September and October – please let me know if you plan to attend any.
And, of course, if you haven’t ordered your copy yet, Amazon.com is here to help you…

Order Book at Amazon.com
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com.
Print Edition, $24.95

Order Kindle eBook
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click

Here

to order at Amazon.com,
Kindle Edition, $9.99

> September 8th, Petaluma, California: Physical and Mental Exercise for Brain Fitness, at the Club One Fitness Center. More information here.

> September 9th, San Francisco: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, at San Francisco State University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). More information here.

> September 11th, Oakland, California: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, at ASA Brain Health Day

> September 23rd, New York Public Library, Bronx Library Center: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. More information here.

> September 25rd, New York Public Library, Stephen Schwarzman Building: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. More information here.

> October 6th, Palo Alto, CA: Brain Fitness – Fad or Revolution?, SmartSilvers MIT Northern California event. More information here.

> October 14th, Berkeley, CA: Do’s and Don’ts of Brain Fitness for Life, at UC-Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. More information here.

> October 21th, New York City: Brain Fitness For All, at Glen Cove Senior Center.

Reminder: you can Order your copy Here!

Education AND Lifelong Cognitive Activities build Cognitive Reserve and Delay Memory Loss

In a recently published scientific study (see Hall C, et al “Cognitive activities delay onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia” Neurology 2009; 73: 356-361), Hall and colleagues examined how education and stimulating activities may interact to contribute to cognitive reserve. The study involved 488 initially healthy people, average age 79, who brain teasers job interviewenrolled in the Bronx Aging Study between 1980 and 1983. These individuals were followed for 5 years with assessments every 12 to 18 months (starting in 1980). At the start of the study, all participants were asked how many cognitive activities (reading, writing, crossword puzzles, board or card games, group discussions, or playing music) they participated in and for how many days a week. Researchers were able to evaluate the impact of self-reported participation these activities on the onset of accelerated memory decline in 101 individuals who developed dementia during the study.

Results showed that for every “activity day” (participation in one activity for one day a week) the subjects engaged in, they delayed for about two months the onset of rapid memory loss associated with dementia. Interestingly, the positive effect of brain-stimulating activities in this study appeared to be independent of a person’s level of education.

This is great news as it suggests that it is never too late to try to build up brain reserve. The more brain stimulating activities one does and the more often, the better for a stronger cognitive reserve.

The cognitive reserve hypothesis suggests that individuals with more cognitive reserve can experience more Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain (more plaques and tangles) without developing Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

How does that work? Scientists are not sure but two possibilities are considered.
1. One is that more cognitive reserve means more brain reserve, that is more neurons and connections between neurons.
2. Another possibility is that more cognitive reserve means more compensatory processes (see my previous post “Education builds Cognitive Reserve for Alzheimers Disease Protection” for more details.)

Now, one may wonder about the difference types of mental stimulation available, including not only puzzles and such, but structured activities such as brain fitness software and meditation. Do we exercise our brain every time we think about something? What can one do to exercise one’s brain in ways that enhance capacity? Does aerobic fitness training also exercise one’s brain? What types of methodologies and products are available? Do they “work”? Are all the same?

Those are the types of questions we wanted to address in the book The SharpBrains Guide To Brain Fitness (available via Amazon.com). We are proud of the recognition the book has started to obtain, including endorsements by leading scientists:

“The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness is the only book that I know of that seamlessly integrates latest information about cognitive health across the lifespan, with interviews with active researchers examining cognitive maintenance and enhancement, along with reviews of commercial products targeted to cognitive enhancement. The book should be very useful to anyone interested in brain care, both health care professionals and the public at large”.
– Arthur Kramer, Professor of Psychology at University of Illinois

“This SharpBrains book provides a very valuable service to a wide community interested in learning and brain topics. I found it interesting and helpful”
– Michael Posner, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon, and first recipient of the Dogan Prize

Pascale MichelonPascale Michelon, Ph. D., is SharpBrains’ Research Manager for Educational Projects. Dr. Michelon has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and has worked as a Research Scientist at Washington University in Saint Louis, in the Psychology Department. She conducted several research projects to understand how the brain makes use of visual information and memorizes facts. She is now an Adjunct Faculty at Washington University.

References:

– Study: Hall C, et al “Cognitive activities delay onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia” Neurology 2009; 73: 356-361

– Book: The SharpBrains Guide To Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp

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)

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