Brain Fitness Program and Neuroplasticity @ PBS

Update (11/10/10): Have you seen PBS great spe­cials on Brain Fit­ness and Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty ?

The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram DVD ($24.95)

The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram is based on the brain’s abil­i­ty to change and adapt, even rewire itself. In the past two years, a team of sci­en­tists has devel­oped com­put­er-based stim­u­lus sets that dri­ve ben­e­fi­cial chem­i­cal, phys­i­cal and func­tion­al changes in the Peter Coyote Brain Fitness Programbrain. Dr. Michael Merzenich of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia and his col­leagues share their sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly based set of brain exer­cis­es in this life-alter­ing pro­gram. Peter Coy­ote (pic­tured) narrates. ”

PBS aired in Decem­ber 2007 a spe­cial pro­gram on neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, brain fit­ness, aging and the brain titled “Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram”. To watch the 3‑minute trail­er: click here.

In 2008, PBS released a sec­ond DVD: 

Brain Fit­ness 2: Sight and Sound DVD ($24.95)

This pro­gram, specif­i­cal­ly designed to help peo­ple get the most from their vision and hear­ing as they age, con­sid­ers how these sens­es change through­out life and what peo­ple can do to keep them healthy and ful­ly functional.”


If you do not have time to watch these great doc­u­men­taries, here are a few points one needs to under­stand about neuroplasticity:

1.  The human brain is now con­sid­ered to be a high­ly dynam­ic and con­stantly reor­ga­niz­ing sys­tem capa­ble of being shaped and reshaped across an entire lifes­pan. It is believed that every expe­ri­ence alters the brain’s orga­ni­za­tion at some lev­el. The key words in this new approach to the brain are neu­ro­plas­tic­ity and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis. Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity refers to the life­long capac­ity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stim­u­la­tion of learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. Neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis is the abil­ity to cre­ate new neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons through­out a life­time. The lat­ter process is also referred to as synap­to­ge­n­e­sis. This new par­a­digm con­trasts with tra­di­tional ideas of the human brain being a fixed and essen­tially lim­ited sys­tem that only degrades with age.

2. As we age, the rate of change in the brain, or neu­ro­plas­tic­ity, declines but does not come to a halt. In addi­tion, we now know that new neu­rons can appear in cer­tain parts of the brain up until the day we die.

3. Brain plas­tic­ity is cru­cial fol­low­ing head injury. It is the one brain’s abil­ity that allows recov­ery. Brain plas­tic­ity is also the abil­ity that brain train­ing takes advan­tages of to try to slow down the aging process.

To read about evi­dence of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty in the human brain take a look at Brain plas­tic­i­ty: How learn­ing changes you brain


Note: 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? Why is man­ag­ing stress so impor­tant to atten­tion and mem­o­ry? Which brain train­ing approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

If you have these ques­tions, check out this new book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness:

“Final­ly, an insight­ful and com­plete overview of the sci­ence, prod­ucts and trends to debunk old myths and help us all main­tain our brains in top shape. A must-read”
Glo­ria Cavanaugh, for­mer Pres­i­dent & CEO of the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging and found­ing Board mem­ber of the Nation­al Alliance for Caregiving
“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

A mas­ter­ful guide to the brain train­ing rev­o­lu­tion. Promis­es to stim­u­late a much need­ed con­ver­sa­tion that will nudge soci­ety to build a new brain fit­ness cul­ture on sol­id, research-based, foundations.”
P. Murali Doraiswamy MD, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try, Duke Uni­ver­si­ty and Co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan

The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fitness
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click


to order at
Print Edi­tion, $24.95

SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book Click


to order at,
Kin­dle Edi­tion, $9.99


  1. Balooch8 on March 7, 2008 at 8:19

    Thank you for your insight and intel­li­gence. I find it sim­ply fas­ci­nat­ing that some folks are actu­al­ly balk­ing at a $350 price tag! As an IT pro­fes­sion­al, I can assure those post­ing that $350.00 is extreme­ly cheap for software. 

    Take it from the moth­er of an autis­tic spec­trum child– I would be thrilled to find cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment help for $350!! Try the Lin­damood Bell pro­gram– $10,000 for a 6 week ses­sion. Or per­haps $3,000 just to engage Fast­For­ward? How about a $8,000–10,000 com­mit­ment for P.A.C.E./ Learn­ing RX? And the real kick­er? You take a 2nd on your house so that your child might pos­si­bly achieve age appro­pri­ate per­for­mance. Oh, and by the way, not one of those orga­ni­za­tions offers any type of guar­an­tee for your $10,000 investment. 

    Yet many, many par­ents are get­ting loans, bor­row­ing against their homes– any­thing– to get these kids the help they need to (hope­ful­ly) hold their own in this knowl­edge-based soci­ety of ours.

    Any par­ent of a child strug­gling with pro­cess­ing issues can tell you that there is a rapid­ly advanc­ing, ever widen­ing chasm between the “haves” and the “have nots” in our coun­try– except now what sets the “have nots” apart is cog­ni­tive development. 

    Yet the pro­grams PROVEN to be most effec­tive are cost pro­hib­i­tive for most U.S. fam­i­lies. With diag­no­sis of autis­tic spec­trum at a cri­sis lev­el (cur­rent­ly 1 in 150 kids in the U.S.), it is only going to get far, far worse. 

    I don’t know whether this pro­gram works or not. I just don’t feel too much sym­pa­thy for those grip­ping about the $350! If it works for you, con­sid­er your­self for­tu­nate to have found a valu­able resource.

    Now, can we get back to shar­ing some more great infor­ma­tion on audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing and flex­ing those cog­ni­tive mus­cles? Mary Lu– you’re great. More insight?

    And MK Gates– I have no doubt that PBS and NPR are not your cup of tea. Per­haps the “mama bird” news (you know– some­one else digests it and regur­gi­tates it for you to eat up with aban­don) from Fox News is more to your liking?

  2. GCH on March 7, 2008 at 8:03

    MK Gates, it’s odd that on the one hand you’re say­ing this is a “mon­ey mak­ing scheme” and a “ripoff” as if to imply it’s of no val­ue or it does­n’t work. But you then seem to say it would be a good deal at $40. So you appar­ent­ly think it’s a good prod­uct at “some” price, just not the price that it’s cur­rent­ly sell­ing at.

    Just because it’s on a “sin­gle” CD as you put it, does­n’t mean the infor­ma­tion con­tain there­in is not wor­thy of a set price. Thou­sands of hours of work by very spe­cial­ized sci­en­tist goes into some­thing like this. How is $40 the appro­pri­ate price? A dia­mond is noth­ing more than a piece of coal com­pressed under high heat, yet peo­ple spend thou­sands of dol­lars for some­thing that’s “looks” good on their fin­ger and noth­ing more.

    If the price is cur­rent­ly beyond your means, it seems unfair to blame PBS or the pro­gram since by your own state­ment, you say that tens of mil­lions of peo­ple would own it at a low­er price. At the very least, it sounds like you think it’s a pret­ty darn good program.

  3. Alvaro on March 7, 2008 at 8:50

    Balooch: thank you for your com­ment and pro­gram overview…yes, when pro­grams are sold as a bun­dle with ser­vices they can become real­ly expen­sive. We hope that over time prices will go down…as they usu­al­ly do as fields and pro­grams mature.

    And the real­i­ty is that, unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have not seen high-qual­i­ty research show­ing that those are effec­tive with autis­tic chil­dren. The clos­est we have seen is Teach­Town, but still with­out a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al. Cogmed is show­ing promis­ing results with Asperger’s.

    GCH: thank you for your com­ment too. Good analogy.
    Both: let’s not be too hard on MK…no one is per­fect. We all come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds, and all can learn :-)

    Have a nice weekend!

  4. Kirk on March 13, 2008 at 7:58

    We have been a Fast­For­ward Provider for about six months and have a child with audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing delay. We cur­rent­ly have over a dozen chil­dren in the FF pro­to­col. As a par­ent and a provider, the sci­ence behind this is REAL and we have been see­ing incred­i­ble results. Non-ver­bal autis­tic chil­dren are start­ing to speak, chil­dren are leap-frog­ging over read­ing lev­els and chil­dren who used to lash out in anger/tantrums are able to con­trol their emo­tions bet­ter. Due to the harsh win­ter, we have had chil­dren who have missed their pro­to­col and have been telling their par­ents they feel dif­fer­ent when they don’t GET to come to our cen­ter. Although the price may seem to be high, final­ly find­ing some­thing that ACTUALLY works and see­ing your child progress makes it all worth it.

  5. M. Pace on March 15, 2008 at 9:59

    Kas­san­dra: You are rais­ing a valid con­cern. I will for­ward your com­plaint to the com­pa­ny that devel­ops and sells that soft­ware-we have noth­ing to do with it!”

    It is shame­ful enough that PBS engages in this scam.

    It is unfor­giv­able that it would deny hav­ing any­thing “to do with it”.

    Obvi­ous­ly there is a con­nec­tion between the PBS TV pro­gram and the mar­ket­ing of the soft­ware. To claim oth­er­wise is sim­ply not credible.

    PLUS I pro­found­ly thank those who point­ed out that the soft­ware is only usable through two cycles.

    It is a shame how far PBS has fall­en from its for­mer­ly noble status.

  6. M. Pace on March 15, 2008 at 10:32

    Balooch writes;

    Yet the pro­grams PROVEN to be most effec­tive are cost pro­hib­i­tive for most U.S. fam­i­lies. With diag­no­sis of autis­tic spec­trum at a cri­sis lev­el (cur­rent­ly 1 in 150 kids in the U.S.), it is only going to get far, far worse.”

    This is com­plete bull !

    All” you have to do is eat prop­er­ly, take sup­ple­men­tary mul­ti­vi­t­a­mins and mul­ti­lmin­er­als to make sure your diet is com­plete, exer­cise prop­er­ly, and engage in reg­u­lar chal­leng­ing men­tal exer­cise — for exam­ple, play bridge, do cross­word puz­zles … even the men­tal effort required to do folk-danc­ing has been shown to suffice.

    I put “all” in quotes because it’s not that easy to take prop­er care of one­self. BUT it is com­plete­ly with­in one’s con­trol unless one is pover­ty-strick­en. Any it’s NOT cost-prohibitive.

    That’s a total scam by the peo­ple who want you to think that your brain will auto­mat­i­cal­ly dete­ri­o­rate unless you buy their product.

    It is out­ra­geous and prob­a­bly ille­gal that PBS is in cahoots with these decep­tive profiteers.

  7. Brenda on March 16, 2008 at 12:04

    Does any­one know how I can still order the $365 Brain Fit­ness Pack­age from PBS? I can’t find it on thi­er website.

  8. robert on March 16, 2008 at 2:29

    i don’t like going to the gym to work­out but go because of the appar­ent out­comes from exer­cise, same as this i won’t like to spend an hour each day doing the exer­cis­es but know the out­come can only be ben­e­fi­cial. I bought the bun­dle and I am cur­rent­ly using it and I used to be a com­put­er pro­gram­mer, the amount of work that goes into this is huge, if they did not charge that amount how would they pay their staff, research, day to day, etc…

  9. robert on March 16, 2008 at 2:34

    bren­da, just give them a ring an ding ding and order

  10. Mary Lu on March 17, 2008 at 10:44

    In response to M.Pace, 3/15–

    Balooch8 was writ­ing about neu­ro pro­grams for chil­dren with autism, not about typ­i­cal adults. So exer­cise, eat­ing right and doing puz­zles clear­ly arn’t ade­quate. There has been exten­sive research prov­ing the regard­ing effi­ca­cy of pro­grams like “Fast For­word.” Kirk attests to the suc­cess of Fast For­word in his per­son­al expe­ri­ence pro­vid­ing the pro­gram. (3/13)

    I don’t know any­thing about stud­ies regard­ing effi­ca­cy of the Brain Fit­ness pro­gram with “typ­i­cal” adults, but don’t be so quick to assume it is “a rip off.” The sci­en­tists who designed Fast For­word cre­at­ed the Brain Fit­ness pro­gram. Alvero, can you com­ment on the Brain Fit­ness pro­gram and studies?

  11. Linda on March 19, 2008 at 4:31

    I am a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist and I work with adults, many of whom have strokes, brain injuries, or oth­er neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. I would like to know if there are any stud­ies using the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram (or Mind­fit Pro­gram) on adults with the above dis­or­ders. Many of my patients are ask­ing for more infor­ma­tion. Please cite stud­ies in your response. Thank you.

  12. Alvaro on March 28, 2008 at 2:25

    Lin­da: the 2 pro­grams with pub­lished research specif­i­cal­ly for stroke and TBI patients are NovaV­i­sion (FDA cleared) and Cogmed (small pilot). Not aware of pub­lished papers in good jour­nals of oth­er pro­grams for those conditions.

    Cicerone has done a cou­ple great lit­er­a­ture reviews, you can check them in PubMed.

    Mary Lu: Posit’s pro­gram is pret­ty recent, so they don’t have pub­lished research com­pa­ra­ble to Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing. So far, they have one tri­al pub­lished in PNAS, with aver­age age around 70, and they have announced some ini­tial results from IMPACT, a very large study, that will prob­a­bly cre­ate media waves when published.

    M. Pace: my brain has lim­i­ta­tions too…and I real­ly can’t see how to explain bet­ter that we (Sharp­Brains) have noth­ing to do with Posit Sci­ence’s pro­gram… we can talk about them, the same way we dis­cuss many oth­er pro­grams, research stud­ies, trends…but are ful­ly sep­a­rate com­pa­nies. And in fact we don’t sell their prod­uct, or any oth­er. Bet­ter now?

    All pro­fes­sion­als in this thread: we have pub­lished our mar­ket report to pro­vide an overview of the field, the play­ers, and the trends. You may find it a use­ful pro­fes­sion­al tool

  13. Michael P. Williams on May 28, 2008 at 7:26

    I want to offer one impor­tant note to those who may con­tem­plate obtain­ing ‘The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram’ as a gift in return for a $365 pledge to PBS. When you receive the let­ter from PBS acknowl­edg­ing your pledge, you will find that the actu­al val­u­a­tion of your pledge (for tax pur­pos­es) is $65, with fair val­ue of goods received (i.e., ‘The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram’) not­ed as $300. How much of your $365 pledge actu­al­ly makes its way in to the PBS trea­sury will depend, of course, on what their actu­al cost is for ‘The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram’, but the con­tri­bu­tion you will be able to report on your income tax return is $65.

  14. Alvaro on May 28, 2008 at 5:41

    Michael, great point, thank you for sharing.

  15. Kathy on June 9, 2008 at 6:36

    Mary Lu/Alvaro,

    I saw The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram on PBS for the first time last night. I have been on the hunt for soft­ware for my ADHD diag­nosed child for sev­er­al years. Do you think this pro­gram would be of any benefit?

  16. Alvaro on June 9, 2008 at 5:31

    Kathy, the only research-based cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions I have seen for ADHD kids are:

    1) Cogmed work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing pro­gram (soft­ware-based, avail­able via clinicians)

    2) Cog­ni­tive behav­ioral therapy

    3) Med­i­ta­tion. With less evi­dence at this point, but very intrigu­ing one, as we cov­ered recently.

    None of the pro­grams men­tioned in the PBS pro­gram have pub­lished evi­dence on effi­ca­cy for kids with ADHD (they tar­get oth­er populations/ cog­ni­tive priorities).

    I sug­gest you con­sult your kids’ doc­tor or spe­cial­ist on what he/ she thinks may help.

  17. Martin on June 16, 2008 at 6:21

    As this field begins to bur­geon, it will be crit­i­cal for us to be able to dis­tin­guish between the snake oil and the gen­uine arti­cle. Oth­er­wise peo­ple will be wast­ing time and mon­ey and squan­der­ing hope on use­less products.

    Jour­nal­ists can help by not get­ting caught up in the hype.

    I would agree that $300 or so sounds exor­bi­tant. $30 sounds bet­ter. And a pro­gram that begins with proven aca­d­e­m­ic research is far less like­ly to be snake oil than one for which paid stud­ies are sup­plied on demand.

  18. Ken Cooper on July 30, 2008 at 9:57

    Just received my Brain Fit­ness pack­age. Nice!

    My main com­put­er is an iMac but my plan has been to install this on my HP Pre­sario C500 Win­dows (as required) lap­top with Celeron M proces­sor and Vista. The speed of this lap­top is 533 MHz. Now I see that this pro­gram needs a speed of at least 1 GHz.

    I’m hop­ing you’ll tell me to go ahead and load it because it will work fine at your 533 MHZ or that you now have a pro­gram for my iMac.

    I’ll hold off load­ing this until I receive your answer.

  19. Alvaro on July 31, 2008 at 1:01

    Ken, we do not sell any prod­uct, but cov­er the whole mar­ket as a research & advi­so­ry firm. You prob­a­bly are con­fus­ing companies.

    The doc­u­men­ta­tion you have prob­a­bly lists a web­site and cus­tomer sup­port con­tact infor­ma­tion. I encour­age you to con­tact them and ask that question.


  20. Ken Cooper on July 31, 2008 at 9:47

    Thanks for the quick response. I called PositScience, the devel­op­ers of the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram. They have a Mac ver­sion of this and are send­ing it to me. Bravo!

    Thanks again.

  21. Dispatch on August 18, 2008 at 9:03

    Hi. I watched por­tions of the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram on my local PBS sta­tion this past week. The high price for the soft­ware is not a scam, it is a pledge to sup­port PBS, and the soft­ware is a gift. PBS also does shows on musi­cians (last I saw was the Osmonds), and for a pledged amount, you get Osmond stuff.

    I am a Mod­er­a­tor on a mes­sage board that advo­cates treat­ment options for Depres­sion & Epiepsy/Seizure Dis­or­der patients. I am look­ing for a low cost & sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven results treat­ment option to share with the mem­bers. Is it pos­si­ble this soft­ware would be ben­e­fi­cial adjunc­tive ther­a­py in help­ing ease the fre­quen­cy and sever­i­ty of depres­sion & seizures? We are not Physi­cians on this mes­sage board, and can not give med­ical advice. We do offer sug­ges­tions the mem­bers can research & dis­cuss with thi­er treat­ing Physi­cians. I myself suf­fer with seizures & depres­sion result­ing from a trau­mat­ic brain injury. The injury has caused learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, short term mem­o­ry issues, bal­ance & coor­di­na­tion prob­lems, etc. I think this soft­ware would be ben­e­fi­cial for some­one in my case. In most all cas­es, hav­ing seizures and uncon­trolled depres­sion require some sort of med­ica­tion inter­ven­tion, so in no way am I going to sug­gest any mem­ber go off meds, but to be able to uti­lize some­thing like this soft­ware may open up a whole new world for some peo­ple in gain­ing bet­ter con­trol over seizures & depres­sion. Med­ica­tion for these ill­ness­es, as well as ECT treat­ments for depres­sion, cause mem­o­ry loss and alot of the time awful side effects. Some peo­ple have no relief from these treat­ments. It would be great to be able to have some­thing that is non-inva­sive & non-tox­ic to help treat these illnesses.

    I look for­ward to any infor­ma­tion any of you can pro­vide. Thanks in advance for your time.

  22. zerodiv on October 6, 2008 at 8:46

    I usu­al­ly love pbs, but I have to say that I am thor­ough­ly dis­ap­point­ed with this pro­gram. I’m all for fund­ing dri­ves, but this was basi­cal­ly an infomercial.

  23. Tracey on February 5, 2009 at 12:48

    Balooch8, Mary Lu and Alvaro, Thanks much for all the won­der­ful infor­ma­tion. You have helped me great­ly in my search for brain based activ­i­ties for my 6 year old!

  24. maggie on February 7, 2009 at 9:00

    Your blog is won­der­ful, Alvaro!
    I am a grad­u­ate stu­dent in Chica­go study­ing the appli­ca­tion of neu­rotech­nolo­gies in teach­ing and learn­ing set­tings. I am espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in lis­ten­ing, or sound ther­a­py pro­grams and/or brain based com­put­er pro­grams for spe­cial needs chil­dren. I have a few questions:

    1‑Do you have any rec­om­men­da­tions of grad­u­ate courses/workshops where I can learn more about brain based/brain fit­ness com­put­er technology? 

    2‑What are experts in the field, such as your­self, call­ing this area of neu­rotech­nol­o­gy? Is it cog­ni­tive tech­nol­o­gy, or neu­roe­d­u­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy? How would I define this area for the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion who does­n’t under­stand these techniques?

  25. Alvaro Fernandez on February 10, 2009 at 8:37

    Mag­gie- we also received your email, so will cor­re­spond that way.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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