Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Neurotechnology Trends, and the Neurosoftware Market

The Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) just announced the top ten emerging areas of neuroscience that will “impact the future of treatments for brain and nervous system”: Top 10 Neuroscience Trends in 2007.

It provides superb food for thought. And some of them will sound familiar to readers of this blog:

* 6. Normal brain aging gets more attention: More research and development is being focused on thinking impairments that only partially limit independence and quality of life for senior citizens, adults and school aged children. Neurosoftware will penetrate nursing homes and schools, as brain fitness software becomes new first-line treatment strategy.
* 8. Prevention evidence grows: You are what you eat; smoking is as bad as we thought; and new studies reveal the effects of environmental substances on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others.
* 9. Emotional disorders research advances:  New research continues to link neurogenesis to treatment of depression.  A better understanding of PTSD should lead to new treatment regimes.

Want to read probably the best overview of the neurosoftware/ brain fitness software market? Check this article, fresh from the oven: Thank Boomers for Buffing Up Brain Market.

To clarify the numbers mentioned: we project $225m in the US alone (growing from $70m in 2003), broken-down as follows: $80m for the Consumer segment, $60m in K12 Education, $50m in Clinical applications, and $35m in the Corporate segment. The Consumer segment, with a healthy aging value proposition, is the most recent one but the most rapidly growing.

Cognitive Fitness as a New Frontier of Fitness

emWave for Stress ManagementVery good article in the LA Times today. Like a StairMaster for the brain: Can mental workouts improve the mind’s agility? Baby boomer concerns stimulate an industry expansion.

The reporter, Melissa Healy, reviews the healthy aging segment in the Brain Fitness field. A few selected quotes:

– “There is plausibility, both biological and behavioral, to the claim that these may work,” says Molly Wagster, chief of the National Institute on Aging’s neuropsychology branch. “But it is still a situation of ‘buyer beware.’ ”

– “I see this as a new frontier of fitness overall,” says Alvaro Fernandez, founder and chief executive of the website SharpBrains .com, which tracks the business and science of brain-training. Americans already understand the value of physical fitness as a means of preserving the body’s proper function and preventing age-related diseases, says Fernandez. He predicts that cognitive fitness will become a goal to which Americans equally aspire as we learn more about aging and the brain.
– (Dr. Elkhonon) Goldberg, who provides scientific advice on the website http://www.sharpbrains.com/, says that as neuroscientists use imaging technologies to “see” the cellular changes that come with learning, he grows more confident that well-designed training programs can have discernible everyday effects in preserving or repairing the intellectual function of older adults. “This is shared hardware” that’s being changed in the brain, “and to the extent you somehow enhance it, that will have wide-ranging effects,” Goldberg says. “It provides a much more compelling raisontre for this whole business.”

The article adds that “Americans this year are expected to invest $225 million in these programs — up from just $70 million in 2003 — in an effort to tune up the brain, strengthen the memory and forestall or reverse the cognitive slippage that often comes with age, psychiatric disease, stroke or medical treatments.”

Our breakdown for those 2007 US predictions are as follows: $80m for the Consumer segment, $60m in K12 Education, $50m in Clinical applications, and $35m in the Corporate segment. The Consumer segment, with a healthy aging value proposition, is the most recent one but the most rapidly growing.

Read the full article: Like a StairMaster for the brain.

PS: the article also says “In the last three years, these brainpower-boosting programs have proliferated, with names like MindFit, Happy Neuron, Brain Fitness and Lumosity.”.. if there are reporters reading this, please avoid future confusion by naming Posit Science’s program “Posit Science Brain Fitness Program 2.0”. Brain Fitness refers to the full category.

Build Your Cognitive Reserve: An Interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern

Yaakov SternDr. Yaakov Stern is the Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center, and Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York. Alvaro Fernandez interviews him here as part of our research for The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness book.

Dr. Stern is one of the leading proponents of the Cognitive reserve theory, which aims to explain why some individuals with full Alzheimer’s pathology (accumulation of plaques and tangles in their brains) can keep normal lives until they die, while others -with the same amount of plaques and tangles- display the severe symptoms we associate with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

The concept of a Cognitive Reserve has been around since 1989, when a post mortem analysis of 137 people with Alzheimer’s Disease showed that some patients exhibited fewer clinical symptoms than their actual pathology suggested. These patients also showed higher brain weights and greater number of neurons when compared to age-matched controls. The investigators hypothesized that the patients had a larger “reserve” of neurons and abilities that enable them to offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then, the concept of Cognitive Reserve has been defined as the ability of an individual to tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating clinical cognitive symptoms. (You can check at the end of this interview a great clip on this).

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Key take-aways

– Lifetime experiences, like education, engaging occupation, and leisure activities, have been shown to have a major influence on how we age, specifically on whether we will develop Alzheimer’s symptoms or not.

– This is so because stimulating activities, ideally combining physical exercise, learning and social interaction, help us build a Cognitive Reserve to protect us.

– The earlier we start building our Reserve, the better; but it is never too late to start. And, the more activities, the better: the effect is cumulative.

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The Cognitive Reserve

Alvaro Fernandez (AF): Dear Dr. Stern, it is a pleasure to have you here. Let me first ask you this: the implications of your research are pretty broad, presenting major implications across sectors and age groups. What has been the most unexpected reaction so far?

YS: well…I was pretty surprised when Read the rest of this entry »

Alzheimer’s Disease: too serious to play with headlines

Featured Website, Scientific American Mind, June/July 2007

We just came across an article titled Best Computer Brain Games for Senior Citizens to Delay Alzheimer’s Disease. The headline makes little scientific sense-and we observe this confusion often. The article mentions a few programs we have discussed often in this blog, such as Posit Science and MindFit, and others we haven’t because we haven’t found any published science behind, such as Dakim and MyBrainTrainer. And there are more programs: what about Happy Neuron, Lumosity, Spry Learning and Captain’s Log. Not to talk about Nintendo Brain Age, of course.

Some of those programs have real science that, at best, shows how some specific cognitive skills (like memory, or attention, or processing) can be trained and improved-no matter the age. This is a very important message that hasn’t yet percolated through many brains out there: we know today that computer-based software programs can be very useful to train some cognitive skills, better than alternative methods (paper and pencil, classroom-based, just “daily living”).

Now, no single program can make ANY claim that it specifically delays/ prevents Alzheimer’s Disease beyond general statements such as that Learning Slows Physical Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease (hence the imperative for lifelong learning) and that mental stimulation-together with other lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical exercise and stress management, as outlined in these Steps to Improve Your Brain Health– may contribute to build a Cognitive Reserve that may reduce the probability of problems. Programs may be able to Read the rest of this entry »

MindFit, Posit Science, Happy Neuron

The Seattle Times has a good brief article today on Posit Science, Happy Neuron Games and us (they mention MindFit Brain Workout to “work on short-term memory, naming, divided attention, planning, hand-eye coordination and other cognitive measures.”).

Check Is your brain ready for the challenge?

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For the record (given a reader’s comment below I changed the word “focus” with “mention”), we think Posit Science offers a great and intensive program mostly focused on auditory processing, that HappyNeuron offers a wider variety of games online so it is a less structured “program”, and MindFit is a combination of both approaches (structured program, wide variety). Each of them are useful tools-it depends on what you may want to accomplish. SharpBrains does not produce any of them.

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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