Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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)

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 »

Learn about the 2014 SharpBrains Summit in 2 minutes

Watch Larry King’s interview

» Click HERE in the USA, or HERE else­where (opens 28-min program)

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