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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains

Back in July, I wrote a post entitled 10 Brain Tips To Teach and Learn. Those tips apply to students of any age, including adults, for ideally adults are still learners. Why is adult learning relevant in a brain-focused blog, you may wonder:

The short of it

As we age, our brain:

still forms new brain cells
can change its structure & function
finds positive stress can be beneficial; negative stress can be detrimental
can thrive on novel challenges
needs to be exercised, just like our bodies

The long of it

Adults may have a tendency to get set in their ways have been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change? Turns out, though, that change can be a way to keep aging brains healthy. At the April Learning & the Brain conference, the theme of which was neuroplasticity, I attended several sessions on adult learning. Here’s what the experts are saying.

Read the rest of this entry »

carnival of the capitalists with a brain- September 17, 2007

                

Welcome to the September 17, 2007 edition of carnival of the capitalists.

First, a puzzle. Why do we have the brains we have? specifically, why do humans have proportionally bigger and better connected frontal lobes (the blue area behind our foreheads) than any other species? The answer: to be able to learn and adapt to changing environments during our lifetime. Neuroscientists say that the frontal lobes are the “CEO of the brain”, and that we need that type of frontal lobes to exercise our so-called “Executive Functions” that enable us to 1) Understand our environments, 2) Set goals and define strategies to accomplish our goals, 3) Execute those strategies well.Frontal Lobes

Now, let’s see how all these carnival contributors are putting their frontal lobes to good use. Given the volume of submissions received, we had to be really selective. Enjoy!

 

1) Understanding our environment: macroeconomy, real estate slowdown, and lobbying.

James wonders, “Can the Fed begin as it must to cut the target rate and still avoid Tim’s slippery slope? I think so, and here’s how.”

Ian presents a forceful case that No, Greenspan Doesn’t Get To Rehabilitate His Reputation, at Firedoglake. Very timely post, given that Greenspan is releasing his book today. 

“The recent sub-prime mortgage fiasco and its effect on our investments prompted us to reconsider our portfolio’s risk tolerance capability”, says FIRE Finance, outlining these Investment Risks at a Glance. Along similar lines, we can read that “I am not hoping for the market to get worse. I just know it will, because that is the nature of market cycles” at Is The Housing Crisis and Stock Market Decline Bad Enough Yet?, by My Wealth Builder.

If you wonder what may have contributed to the real estate mess growing so big, you may enjoy reading Pork: Wha’ss On The Barbeque In Congress Is Your Future. The Agonist says: “In the United States today, the simplest, easiest and safest way to make money is to Read the rest of this entry »

Executive Functions and Google/ Microsoft Brain Teasers

Interesting article: Want a job at Google? Try these brainteasers first (CNN)

Quote: “Seemingly random questions like these have become commonplace in Silicon Valley and other tech outposts, where companies aren’t as interested in the correct answer to a tough question as they are in how a prospective employee might try to solve it. Since businesses today have to be able to react quickly to shifting market dynamics, they want more than engineers with high IQs and good college transcripts. They want people who can think on their feet.”

Comment: What are those companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) after? Employees with good Executive Functions. You can try some of the fun teasers in the article:

1) How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

  • About 500,000, assuming the bus is 50 balls high, 50 balls wide, and 200 balls long

2) You’re shrunk and trapped in a blender that will turn on in 60 seconds. What do you do?

Some options:

1. Use the measurement marks to climb out

2. Try to unscrew the glass

3. Risk riding out the air current

3) How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

  • Assuming 10,000 city blocks, 600 windows per block, five minutes per window, and a rate of $20 per hour, about $10 million

 

PS: Enjoy these 50 brain teasers to test your cognitive ability. Free, and fun for adults of any age!

 

The Upside of Aging-WSJ

Sharon Begley writes another great article on The Upside of Aging – WSJ.com (subscription required)

  • “The aging brain is subject to a dreary litany of changes. It shrinks, Swiss cheese-like holes grow, connections between neurons become sparser, blood flow and oxygen supply fall. That leads to trouble with short-term memory and rapidly switching attention, among other problems. And that’s in a healthy brain.”
  • “But it’s not all doom and gloom. An emerging body of research shows that a surprising array of mental functions hold up well into old age, while others actually get better. Vocabulary improves, as do other verbal abilities such as facility with synonyms and antonyms. Older brains are packed with more so-called …”

We discussed some of these effects with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, who wrote his great book The Wisdom Paradox precisely on this point, at The Executive Brain and How our Minds Can Grow Stronger.

In our “Exercising Our Brains” Classes, we typically explain how some areas typically improve as we age, such as self-regulation, emotional functioning and Wisdom (which means moving from Problem solving to Pattern recognition), whereas other typically decline: effortful problem-solving for novel situations, processing speed, memory, attention and mental imagery. 

But the key message is that our actions influence the rate of improvement and/ or decline. Our awareness that “it’s not all doom and gloom” and that there’s much we can do is important. You may want to learn more with our Exercise Your Brain DVD.

You can also learn more on the Successful Aging of the Healthy Brain: a beautiful essay by Marian Diamond on how to keep our brains and minds active and fit throughout our lives.

 

Brain Workout for Your Frontal Lobes

Your frontal lobes are home to your executive functions, including pattern recognition. Here’s a puzzle to challenge your ability to uncover a pattern.

In this puzzle, three numbers: 16, 14, and 38, need to be assigned to one of the rows of numbers below. To which row should each number be assigned – A, B, or C?

A: 0 6 8 9 3
B: 5 13 2 10 16
C: 7 1 47 11 17

Why do we care about pattern recognition skills? Well, if you’re an athlete, then you want to constantly improve your ability to see spatial patterns on the court or field quickly so you can act on them – by passing to open space or attacking the goal at the right moment. Stock traders look for patterns in the market behavior to guide them on buying and selling decisions. Chess masters are experts at recognizing complicated moves. Reading is also pattern recognition.

So, you use pattern recognition all the time whether you know it or not. But remember, using a skill is great, but you have to keep exercising it a little bit harder each time to develop it further.

Have you solved the puzzle yet? If not, here’s a hint:
It’s not a mathematical problem. The numerical values are irrelevant.

Keep reading for the answer
Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Blog Carnival #1

Brain Fitness CarnivalWelcome to the inaugural edition of the Brain Fitness Blog Carnival. The timing couldn’t be better  you have probably seen the featured CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neuroplasticity.

Thanks to the over 40 people who submitted posts. We have had to select the posts we enjoyed the most to help facilitate an engaging and informed conversation.

Learning is physical. Our experience literally shapes our brains. And vice versa. The media seems to be focusing mostly on brain fitness for seniors, but its implications go beyond that, as you will see in this post by Caroline: What is Brain Fitness?, and the articles in this carnival.

Science-based understanding is evolving from “Use it or Lose It” to “Use It and Improve It.”  As Fast Company’s Alan Deutschman provocatively puts it in his last book, Change or Die. We couldn’t agree more with his summary recommendation: “Relate. Repeat. Reframe.” Alan presents a blog article announcing his book (here is his original article). Read the rest of this entry »

CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neuroplasticity and Memory Exercises

CBS News and TIME magazine are teaming up for a five-part series on the “The Complicated, Mesmerizing World of the Brain“. The first report by CBS Evening News contributor Dr. Sanjay Gupta focused on neuroplasticity – “the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by creating new brain cells through mental and physical exercises.”

Dr. Gupta interviewed Arthur Kramer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois who studied the effects of exercise, diet, and social and mental stimulation on older adults. According to Kramer, the break through anti-aging treatment is exercise.

We found in our study that walking will increase the volume of the brain, increase the efficiency of the brain and increase improvements in the number of cognitive functions such as memory and attention.

Kramer and McAuley’s research showed that aerobic exercise led to increased brain volume in the prefrontal and temporal cortices – areas that show considerable age-related deterioration.

To go beyond physical exercise and look at mental exercise, Dr. Gupta also interviewed Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. of UCSF and Posit Science. Merzenich said, “The brain is actually revising itself. It is actually plastically changing itself as you develop new skills and abilities, as you learn new things.” Merzenich has been studying neuroplasticity and how the brain changes with experience since the 1980s.

To Catch the Series, Here’s the Schedule:
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