Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Article: The Business and Ethics of the Brain Fitness Boom

Dur­ing a debrief­ing after the 2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit, Rick Moody, Direc­tor of the Office of Aca­d­e­mic Affairs at AARP, sug­gested that we should con­tribute a thought-lead­er­ship piece to a spe­cial issue on brain health for one of their pro­fes­sional pub­li­ca­tions by the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging. You can now read the result­ing arti­cle, writ­ten by our cofounder Alvaro Fer­nan­dez:

  • Open nice­ly for­mat­ted arti­cle by click­ing Here (opens PDF doc­u­ment).
  • Or, sim­ply read below.

The Business and Ethics of the

Brain Fitness Boom

The recent dis­cov­ery that expe­ri­ence can change brain struc­ture and func­tion at any age has sparked numer­ous health, edu­ca­tion, and pro­duc­tiv­ity appli­ca­tions whose val­ue and lim­i­ta­tions we are only start­ing to grasp.

Brain fit­ness has quick­ly become a main­stream aspi­ra­tion among baby boomers and elders, pri­mar­ily in North Amer­ica. It has fueled a grow­ing inter­est in brain fit­ness class­es, brain fit­ness cen­ters, and brain fit­ness pro­grams, along with atten­dant oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges. An increas­ing num­ber of adults want use­ful tools to pro­tect cog­ni­tive health and performance—not nec­es­sar­ily to reverse aging—and what they are find­ing is an expand­ing and noisy mar­ket­place where they (and also pro­fes­sion­als) need to care­fully eval­u­ate their own needs and the avail­able options (Fer­nan­dez and Gold­berg, 2009). The recent dis­cov­ery that expe­ri­ence can change brain struc­ture and func­tion at any age has inspired a range of health, edu­ca­tion, and pro­duc­tiv­ity appli­ca­tions whose val­ue and lim­i­ta­tions we are only start­ing to grasp. If you can envi­sion the array of equip­ment avail­able to train dif­fer­ent mus­cles in a typ­i­cal mod­ern health club, you can antic­i­pate the value—and per­haps the limitations—of hav­ing an expand­ing toolk­it to mea­sure and enhance cog­ni­tion and men­tal well­ness. The bur­geon­ing brain fit­ness indus­try needs to define and refine itself, to mature, before it can be as estab­lished as today’s phys­i­cal fit­ness indus­try.

The good news is that adults of all ages are pay­ing more atten­tion to the impact of lifestyle options on cog­ni­tive health, and that there are more tools avail­able than ever before to assess, mon­i­tor, and enhance a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, and self-reg­u­la­tion skills. The bad news is that there is no mag­ic pill and that, as often hap­pens in emerg­ing markets,the over­whelm­ing amount of super­fi­cial media cov­er­age and hyped mar­ket­ing claims are pro­vok­ing con­sumer con­fu­sion and skep­ti­cism among researchers and pro­fes­sion­als.

The Busi­ness of Brain Fit­ness

First, some per­spec­tive. I esti­mate that the size of the world­wide dig­i­tal brain fit­ness soft­ware mar­ket (defined as auto­mated appli­ca­tions that help assess, enhance, or repair tar­geted brain func­tions) in 2009 was $295 mil­lion, rep­re­sent­ing an annu­al­ized growth rate of 31 per­cent since 2005 (Fer­nan­dez, 2010). Around half of that amount, or $148 mil­lion, was spent by U.S.-based buy­ers.

Com­pare this to oth­er fit­ness mar­ket seg­ments: in 2007, Amer­i­can con­sumers bought $3 bil­lion worth of tread­mills, and in 2009, Amer­i­can health club mem­ber­ships amount­ed to $19.5 bil­lion. Off-label drug pre­scrip­tion rev­enues in the Unit­ed States alone exceed $10 bil­lion per year, and the cur­rent esti­mate for the North America’s vit­a­mins, min­er­als, and sup­ple­ments mar­ket is $17.7 bil­lion.

The brain fit­ness soft­ware indus­try is only in its infan­cy; it is an emerg­ing and large­ly unreg­u­lated mar­ket where many prod­ucts have lim­ited clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion and often present con­fus­ing claims that make it dif­fi­cult for con­sumers to sep­a­rate wheat from chaff. If this is the case, can we expect this industry’s sig­nif­i­cant and con­tin­ued growth in the fore­see­able future?

Demand dri­ves sup­ply

A grow­ing por­tion of the 78 mil­lion baby boomers in the Unit­ed States is invest­ing time and effort into retain­ing their men­tal sharp­ness. This moti­vates health­care and insur­ance providers to intro­duce and test inno­v­a­tive solu­tions in areas such as dri­ving safe­ty.

The often unrec­og­nized role of brain fit­ness soft­ware is that it can serve as both an assess­ment and an enhance­ment tool, and data­base dri­ven cog­ni­tive care solu­tions have start­ed to become avail­able. At the same time, new com­mu­ni­ty-based mod­els for pre­ven­tive ser­vices have begun to pop up to help cus­tomers put all the puz­zle pieces togeth­er and nav­i­gate the over­whelm­ing array of research, prod­ucts, and claims.

Sci­ence and research dri­ve pol­i­cy

There is accu­mu­lat­ing evi­dence that basic cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, and self-reg­u­la­tion brain based capac­i­ties are more mal­leable than once thought and that lifestyle, non-inva­sive interventions,and inva­sive inter­ven­tions can all play a role in aug­ment­ing or main­tain­ing cog­ni­tive and emo­tional health.

Major ini­tia­tives world­wide are start­ing to shift the over­all men­tal health dis­course from ill­ness and dis­ease to build­ing men­tal cap­i­tal and men­tal well-being through­out life.

The answer to the above ques­tion is a def­i­nite yes: brain fit­ness is here to stay. The next ques­tion is:  How do we har­ness this enthu­si­asm and ener­gy to cre­ate and sup­port a sus­tain­able and valu­able field?

 The Ethics of Brain Fit­ness

The ter­mi­nol­ogy “fun­da­men­tal attri­bu­tion error” describes the ten­dency to over­value per­son­al­i­ty-based expla­na­tions for observed human behav­iors, while under­valu­ing sit­u­a­tional expla­na­tions for those behav­iors.  I believe that a pri­mary rea­son behind many per­ceived and real eth­i­cal chal­lenges in the brain fit­ness field is due not so much to cer­tain stake­hold­ers’ lack of per­sonal or pro­fes­sional ethics, but derives from the flawed soci­etal con­struct that under­pins cur­rent, rel­e­vant inno­va­tions. To improve the ethics of the brain fit­ness busi­ness and its appli­ca­tion (and empow­er con­sumers’ informed deci­sion mak­ing), there must first be agree­ment about a mean­ing­ful, appro­pri­ate way to ana­lyze and guide inno­va­tion. This is the crux of the prob­lem. The cur­rent med­ical mod­el is not up to the task at hand, since it is heav­ily skewed toward inva­sive drugs and devices dri­ven by dis­ease-based mod­els, and fails to lever­age cog­ni­tive reserve find­ings and the pro­tec­tive role of phys­i­cal exer­cise, cog­ni­tive engage­ment, and cog­ni­tive train­ing (Valen­zuela, 2009; AHRQ, 2010).

Sure­ly there are oth­er meth­ods bet­ter suit­ed to the oppor­tu­nity at hand oth­er than the pure­ly enter­tain­ment-dri­ven “brain age” inven­tion. The fol­low­ing quote from a recent paper in Glob­al Pol­icy invites all stake­hold­ers to shift per­cep­tions of aging from bur­den to human cap­i­tal: “We con­tend that ear­ly and repeat­ed pre­ven­tive care ‘inter­ven­tions’ (espe­cially in health behav­iors and geri­atric med­i­cine) and ‘pre­ven­tive’ mea­sures (such as social inte­gra­tion, design of cities and life­long learn­ing so that work­ers can upgrade skills) will delay the onset of late-life dif­fi­cul­ties” (Olshan­sky et al., 2011).

If we are to trans­form the con­ver­sa­tion that cur­rently focus­es on the med­ical mod­el of diag­no­sis and treat­ment of a col­lec­tion of dis­or­ders toward dia­logue that cen­ters upon a cost-ben­e­fits scal­able mod­el of life-course invest­ments in brain health and fit­ness, what strate­gies could inform this new con­ver­sa­tion?

Build­ing men­tal cap­i­tal and well-being

The Fore­sight Project on Men­tal Cap­i­tal and Well-being (The Gov­ern­ment Office for Sci­ence, 2008), a major research and pol­icy ini­tia­tive launched in 2008 by the gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed King­dom, was intend­ed to “pro­mote opti­mal men­tal cap­i­tal tra­jec­to­ries through life for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion [by] influ­enc­ing indi­vid­u­als’ men­tal devel­op­ment and well­be­ing from con­cep­tion until death, ana­lyz­ing pos­si­ble inter­ven­tions to address chal­lenges, draw­ing upon con­sid­er­a­tions such as sci­en­tific effi­cacy, eco­nom­ics, gov­er­nance and ethics.”

A grow­ing por­tion of the 78 mil­lion baby boomers in the Unit­ed States is  invest­ing time and effort into retain­ing their men­tal sharp­ness.

The Project, a mas­sive endeav­or mar­shal­ing hun­dreds of neu­ro­sci­en­tists, result­ed in dozens of detailed reports and put for­ward a new frame­work to guide pub­lic pol­icy, with focus on the fol­low­ing two key con­cepts:

Men­tal cap­i­tal. “This encom­passes a person’s cog­ni­tive and emo­tional resources. It includes their cog­ni­tive abil­ity, how flex­i­ble and effi­cient they are at learn­ing, and their ‘emo­tional intel­li­gence,’ such as their social skills and resilience in the face of stress. It there­fore con­di­tions how well an indi­vid­ual is able to con­tribute effec­tively to soci­ety, and also to expe­ri­ence a high per­sonal qual­ity of life. The idea of ‘cap­i­tal’ nat­u­rally sparks asso­ci­a­tion with ideas of finan­cial cap­i­tal and it is both chal­leng­ing and nat­ural to think of the mind in this way.”

Men­tal well-being. “This is a dynam­ic state, in which the indi­vid­ual is able to devel­op their poten­tial, work pro­duc­tively and cre­atively, build strong and pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships with oth­ers, and con­tribute to their com­mu­nity. It is enhanced when an indi­vid­ual is able to ful­fill their per­sonal and social goals and achieve a sense of pur­pose in soci­ety.”

The Project issued a num­ber of life-course rec­om­men­da­tions, includ­ing the need to address the “mas­sive under-uti­liza­tion of the men­tal cap­i­tal of old­er adults” and to “act deci­sively to estab­lish pro­tec­tive lifestyles for those in mid­dle age in areas where the sit­u­a­tion is set to wors­en, such as the grow­ing num­ber of old­er peo­ple at risk of demen­tia.”

Ulti­mately, the pri­mary rec­om­men­da­tion culled from all the reports was to pro­mote opti­mal men­tal cap­i­tal tra­jec­to­ries through life for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion since “…achiev­ing a small change in the aver­age lev­el of well-being across the pop­u­la­tion would pro­duce a large decrease in the per­cent­age with men­tal dis­or­der, and also in the per­cent­age who have sub-clin­i­cal dis­or­der.”

Trans­lat­ing this to prac­tice, the U.K.’s Nation­al Health Ser­vice has start­ed to adopt a care mod­el that relies heav­ily on self-care and auto­mated ser­vice mod­els ear­ly on in the care con­tin­uum. Com­put­er­ized Cog­ni­tive Behav­ioral Ther­apy (CBT) has become the first stan­dard of care for patients pre­sent­ing with mild or mod­er­ate depres­sion, rather than imme­di­ately opt­ing for anti­de­pres­sant med­ica­tion. Giv­en the mis­match between the num­ber of avail­able, trained ther­a­pists and peo­ple who would ben­e­fit from this form of brain train­ing, com­put­er-assist­ed CBT can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence as a com­ple­ment or alter­na­tive to ther­a­pist-deliv­ered CBT.


Engag­ing peo­ple where they are in the life-course

Eighty per­cent of the 38,000 adults over age 50 who were respon­ders in the 2010 AARP Mem­ber Opin­ion Sur­vey indi­cated “stay­ing men­tally sharp” was their top ranked inter­est and con­cern (Dinger, 2010). What exact­ly does this phrase mean? And what role can tech­nol­ogy play in “stay­ing men­tally sharp”? Intel CEO Paul Otelli­ni has said, “You have to start by think­ing about what peo­ple want to do… and work back­ward.”

The grow­ing inter­est in brain fit­ness presents a sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­nity to build men­tal cap­i­tal, enhance men­tal well­ness, and delay symp­toms of brain-based decline and dis­ease.

In March 2008, AARP ran their Healthy@Home Sur­vey (Bar­ret, 2008) ask­ing just under 1,000 respon­ders, ages 65 and over (mean age of 74 years), and their care­givers about their per­cep­tions of suc­cess­ful aging and tech­nolo­gies for suc­cess­ful aging. In a nut­shell, the survey’s main find­ings were that old­er adults pri­or­i­tize health and inde­pen­dence, that their obsta­cles have a strong cog­ni­tive or per­cep­tual com­po­nent, and that they are open to dig­i­tal health tech­nol­o­gy.

In oth­er words, the top pri­or­ity for old­er adults is not anti-aging—it is about main­tain­ing capac­i­ties to func­tion inde­pen­dently. This is where recent cog­ni­tive sci­ence and dig­i­tal tools can add more val­ue: man­ag­ing and enhanc­ing “brain fit­ness” in the present and the near future—not just pre­vent­ing or treat­ing Alzheimer’s Dis­ease thir­ty years from now.

What are some of the areas where peo­ple want more help with brain fit­ness? To answer this ques­tion, Sharp­Brains ( con­ducted a sur­vey in March 2010 of our month­ly newslet­ter sub­scribers (a group not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pop­u­la­tion at large, but indica­tive of ear­ly adopters and deci­sion mak­ers). We received near­ly 1,700 respons­es from respon­dents who were ages 40 and old­er.

When asked what were the most impor­tant brain func­tions nec­es­sary to thrive per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally in the twen­ty-first cen­tury, respon­dents’ pri­or­i­ties cov­ered a range of cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, and self-reg­u­la­tion func­tions, sug­gest­ing that brain fit­ness solu­tions will need to inte­grate all these domains—or at least be able to link their spe­cific func­tional ben­e­fits to spe­cific user pri­or­i­ties. It was inter­est­ing to con­trast the top two ranked func­tions (“abil­ity to man­age stress­ful sit­u­a­tions”; “con­cen­tra­tion pow­er to avoid dis­trac­tions”) with the bot­tom two (“abil­ity to mul­ti­task”; remem­ber­ing faces and names”), which may debunk many myths about our assump­tions of what peo­ple actu­ally want and need. When asked for their beliefs about the effec­tive­ness of cer­tain habits and tools, respon­dents named intel­lec­tual chal­lenges, aer­o­bic exer­cise, and read­ing books as most effec­tive, close­ly fol­lowed by med­i­ta­tion.

Sim­ply stat­ed: what peo­ple seem to want is help to enhance and pro­long their func­tional men­tal capac­ity. The next step is to deter­mine how old­er adults can best nav­i­gate through the brain fit­ness mar­ket­place.

Empow­er­ing Pro­fes­sion­als to Empow­er Con­sumers

Insti­tu­tions and pro­fes­sion­als in the field of aging have the dai­ly task of help­ing con­sumers, patients, and care­givers nav­i­gate the avail­able non-inva­sive options. Per­son­al­ized assess­ments and advice are crit­i­cal, since improve­ments expe­ri­enced in ther­apy and train­ing pro­grams seem more like­ly to trans­fer to real life when a per­son tar­gets the brain function(s) that are specif­i­cally rel­e­vant to their unique con­text and its bot­tle­necks or deficits (Sharp­Brains, 2011).

Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent needs and pri­or­i­ties, have vary­ing lifestyles, and reside in par­tic­u­lar cog­ni­tive envi­ron­ments: one size does not fit all.

I pro­pose that insti­tu­tions and pro­fes­sion­als who must tra­verse this still-emerg­ing, com­plex land­scape first iden­tify an individual’s par­tic­u­lar bot­tle­necks or deficits, then seek the lev­el of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion for options (tech­nol­o­gy-based or not) that tar­get those spe­cific cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, or self-reg­u­la­tion func­tions. (See the list on page 68 that can help pro­fes­sion­als eval­u­ate brain fit­ness options.)

The oth­er role pro­fes­sion­als play is in edu­cat­ing and empow­er­ing con­sumers, patients, and care­givers to enhance their self-effi­ca­cy by mak­ing their own deci­sions. (Our Sharp­Brains 2009 con­sumer guide includ­ed a pro­gram eval­u­a­tion check­list, excerpt­ed in the box on this page; the full check­list is avail­able at

In the absence of per­fect answers—and we won’t have per­fect answers for a while, if ever—today’s best course is to pro­vide edu­ca­tion and resources that facil­i­tate informed deci­sion mak­ing. Pro­fes­sion­als in the field of aging are in a unique posi­tion to help parse the offer­ings in the rapid­ly evolv­ing field of brain fit­ness.

How to Eval­u­ate Brain Fit­ness Pro­grams: A Con­sumer Check­list

Are there sci­en­tists and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists, and a sci­en­tific advi­sory board behind the pro­gram?

  • Are there pub­lished, peer-reviewed sci­en­tific papers in main­stream sci­en­tific and pro­fes­sional jour­nals writ­ten by those sci­en­tists? How many?
  • Does the pro­gram tell me what part of my brain or which cog­ni­tive skill I am exer­cis­ing?
  • Is there an inde­pen­dent assess­ment tool to mea­sure my progress?
  • Is it a struc­tured pro­gram, with guid­ance on how many hours per week and days per week to use it?
  • Do the exer­cises vary and teach me some­thing new?
  • Does the pro­gram chal­lenge and moti­vate me, or does it feel like it would become easy once I learned it?
  • Does the pro­gram fit my per­sonal goals?
  • Does the pro­gram fit my lifestyle?
  • Am I ready and will­ing to do the pro­gram, or would it be too stress­ful?


Build­ing Blocks for a Bet­ter Future

The best alter­na­tive for tomor­row should be bet­ter than the best alter­na­tive avail­able today. How do we get there, when “cog­ni­tion” and “brain fit­ness” remain elu­sive con­cepts in pop­u­lar cul­ture? I believe that the lack of pub­lic edu­ca­tion is the major obsta­cle that lim­its the brain fit­ness field’s poten­tial to deliv­er real-world ben­e­fits, since only informed demand will ensure the ongo­ing devel­op­ment of ratio­nal, struc­tured “rules of the road.” What could be done to address this and oth­er par­tic­u­lar obsta­cles?

Edu­cate the pub­lic
Ramp up efforts to build pub­lic aware­ness around a cul­ture of brain fit­ness and men­tal cap­i­tal across the lifes­pan, includ­ing estab­lish­ing clear links to dai­ly life and work and the role of cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, and self-reg­u­la­tion fac­tors. Too many peo­ple still view men­tal capac­ity as a kind of uni­fied trait (such as IQ) that is deter­mined by our genes and can only decline with age.

Make it eas­ier to nav­i­gate claims
Easy-to-under­stand and research-based tax­onomies could help con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als eval­u­ate prod­uct claims. Per­haps a label­ing sys­tem, sim­i­lar to the Good House­keep­ing Seal of Approval, will emerge at the ini­tia­tive of a reg­u­la­tor or of the indus­try.

Offer objec­tive cog­ni­tive assess­ment tools
It has been said that “you can’t man­age what you can’t mea­sure.” Reli­able, objec­tive assess­ment tools are crit­i­cal. Ide­ally, assess­ments would be adapt­ed to the par­tic­u­lar cog­ni­tive demands of dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties and set­tings such as work­place per­for­mance, func­tional aging, dri­ving, work­ing as a pilot, or clin­i­cal con­di­tions. Per­haps the sin­gle most effec­tive way to bring cog­ni­tive research into the main­stream con­ver­sa­tion would be if peo­ple took an “annu­al brain check-up” (ASA-MetLife Foun­da­tion, 2006) to under­stand their own oppor­tu­ni­ties for improve­ment and progress, and to sup­port clin­i­cal deci­sion mak­ing.

Empha­size brain fit­ness at the pro­fes­sional lev­el
Pro­fes­sional asso­ci­a­tions could beef up their efforts to add a brain fit­ness lens to their exist­ing offer­ings; this could help incor­po­rate an empha­sis on cog­ni­tion, neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, and men­tal well­ness into main­stream activ­i­ties.

Advo­cate for more and bet­ter research
There are two main pri­or­i­ties for research: to devel­op wide­ly accept­ed out­come stan­dards, includ­ing an estab­lished set of “func­tional mark­ers” at dif­fer­ent lev­els (such as brain-based, cog­ni­tive, and behav­ioral-func­tion­al) for dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions; and to fund tri­als that test mul­ti­modal inter­ven­tions. Iden­ti­fy­ing the respec­tive and com­ple­men­tary ben­e­fits of dif­fer­ent types of inter­ven­tions can result in bet­ter inte­grated and per­son­al­ized prod­ucts and pro­grams.

Nav­i­gat­ing the Cog­ni­tive Prod­uct Maze: Ten Things to Con­sid­er

  1. Tar­get Users. What cohort of the pop­u­la­tion you serve is ready and will­ing to use these pro­grams? What cri­te­ria are most impor­tant to that group?
  2. Tar­geted Ben­e­fits. What are the spe­cific cog­ni­tive, emo­tional, or self-reg­u­la­tion skills that the pro­gram aims to enhance or retrain? What is the fre­quency of use (how many hours per week or num­ber of weeks)?
  3. Appro­pri­ate Lev­el of Chal­lenge. Do the exer­cises adjust to the individual’s skill lev­el and con­tin­u­ally vary and chal­lenge users at an appro­pri­ate pace?
  4. Sci­en­tific Cre­den­tials. Are there sci­en­tists (ide­ally, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists) behind the pro­gram? Is there a clear­ly defined and cred­i­ble sci­en­tific advi­sory board? Are there pub­lished, peer-reviewed sci­en­tific papers on the program’s effi­ca­cy?
  5. Return on Invest­ment. What are your organization’s key busi­ness objec­tives, and can you inde­pen­dently mea­sure pro­gram results to eval­u­ate whether or not the pro­gram will meet those objec­tives?
  6. Total Cost of Own­er­ship. What will the total cost of own­er­ship be over the next three to five years includ­ing up-front fees, ongo­ing fees, hard­ware, soft­ware, train­ing and sup­port fees, cost of addi­tional mod­ules, and staff time? How many users will like­ly end up using the prod­uct or sys­tem, and what would be the cost of own­er­ship per user?
  7. Tech­ni­cal Require­ments. What are the tech­ni­cal require­ments need­ed to suc­cess­fully deploy and main­tain the pro­gram? Does it require Inter­net access? Are peo­ple expect­ed to install their own CD-ROMs? Who will help solve poten­tial tech­ni­cal main­te­nance glitch­es?
  8. Staff Train­ing. What type of train­ing is required to run the pro­gram and who will pro­vide it?
  9. Prod­uct Roadmap. What is the vendor’s prod­uct roadmap? What is the ven­dor devel­op­ing and plan­ning to offer over the next one to three years?
  10. Ref­er­ences. What sim­i­lar providers have used this spe­cific pro­gram? What ben­e­fits have they mea­sured direct­ly? Is the use of the pro­gram grow­ing, or is it flat or declin­ing?

Sum­mary: Work Toward Accord

The grow­ing inter­est in the sci­ence, prac­tice, and busi­ness of brain fit­ness presents a sig­nif­i­cant oppor­tu­nity to build men­tal cap­i­tal, enhance men­tal well­ness, and delay symp­toms of brain-based decline and dis­ease. To best cap­i­tal­ize on this oppor­tu­nity, stake­hold­ers must agree on a mean­ing­ful and appro­pri­ate capac­i­ty-based framework—one that sup­ports both con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als in mak­ing informed deci­sions, and that allows for per­son-cen­tered and cross sec­tor inno­va­tion. Such accord can mean that in five to ten years, we may find our­selves in a much bet­ter place. Where to start? By devel­op­ing a cul­ture of brain fit­ness and men­tal cap­i­tal that spans from cra­dle to grave: I pro­pose that this is the real business—and guid­ing ethic—of the brain fit­ness field.


Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, M.B.A., M.A., is CEO of

Copy­right © 2011 Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging; all rights reserved. This arti­cle may not be dupli­cated, reprint­ed or dis­trib­uted in any form with­out writ­ten per­mis­sion from the pub­lisher: Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging, 71 Steven­son St., Suite 1450, San Francisco,CA 94105–2938; e‑mail:

Cred­it for pics: Big­Stock­Photo.



Agency for Health­care Research and Qual­ity (AHRQ). 2010. Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and Cog­ni­tive Decline, Struc­tured Abstract.April 2010. Agency for Health­care Research and Qual­ity, Rockville, Retrieved April 11,2010.

ASA-MetLife Foun­da­tion. 2006.Attitudes and Aware­ness of Brain Health Poll. San Fran­cisco, Calif.: Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging.

Bar­ret, L. 2008. Healthy@Home Sur­vey (research com­mis­sioned and fund­ed by Blue Shield of Cal­i­for­nia Foun­da­tion to AARP Foun­da­tion). Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: AARP Foun­da­tion.

Dinger, E. 2010. Lis­ten­ing to the Mem­ber: The 2010 AARP Mem­ber Opin­ion Sur­vey. AARP Research & Strate­gic Analy­sis. Washington,D.C.: AARP.

Fer­nan­dez, A. 2010. Trans­form­ing Brain Health with Dig­i­tal Tools to Assess, Enhance and Repair Cog­ni­tion Across the Lifes­pan. 2010 “State-of-the-mar­ket” Report. San Fran­cisco, Calif.: Sharp­Brains.

Fer­nan­dez, A., and Gold­berg, E. 2009. The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: 18 Inter­views with Sci­en­tists, Prac­ti­cal Advice, and Prod­uct Reviews to Keep Your Brain Sharp. San Fran­cisco, Calif.: Sharp­Brains.

Olshan­sky, J., et al. 2011. “The Glob­al Agen­da Coun­cil on the Age­ing Soci­ety: Pol­icy Prin­ci­ples.” Glob­al Pol­icy 2: 97–105.

Sharp­Brains. 2011. “2011 Sharp-Brains Sum­mit: Retool­ing Brain Health for the 21st Cen­tury.” Retrieved April 21, 2011.

The Gov­ern­ment Office for Sci­ence. 2008. Fore­sight Men­tal Cap­i­tal and Well­be­ing Project: Final Project Report (Exec­u­tive Sum­mary). Lon­don, U.K.: The Gov­ern­ment Office for Sci­ence.

Valen­zuela, M., and Sachdev, P. 2009. “Can Cog­ni­tive Exer­cise Pre­vent the Onset of Demen­tia? A Sys­tem­atic Review of Clin­i­cal Tri­als with Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Fol­low Up.” Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try 17: 179?87.

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)