Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive Health and Baby Boomers: 6 Points to Keep in Mind

BrainVery inter­est­ing col­lec­tion of recent news…let’s con­nect some dots

1) Great arti­cle titled Boom time for retirees (Finan­cial Times)

- “By 2015, boomers will have a net worth of some $26,000bn (£12,750bn, ¬17,670bn)  equiv­a­lent to a year’s gross domes­tic prod­uct for the US and euro­zone com­bined. They will con­trol a larg­er pro­por­tion of wealth, income and con­sump­tion than any oth­er gen­er­a­tion in the coun­try  the first time that con­sumers over 50 have held such sway over the world’s largest econ­o­my.”

- “But as the boomers aged by 2015 they will all be out­side the fabled under-49 cohort  cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca failed to grow old with them. Mar­ket­ing experts argue that the con­tin­ued focus of large com­pa­nies such as P&G and Gap on the youth of  “gen­er­a­tion and “gen­er­a­tion” over­looks a sim­ple sta­tis­tic: the 18–49 age group will grow by only 1m peo­ple in the next 10 years, com­pared with the 22.5m Amer­i­cans set to enter the 50-plus brack­et.”

- “The last thing the [boomer] gen­er­a­tion needs is a com­pa­ny that tells them they need tools to address their lack of dex­ter­i­ty, he says. “They don’t want geri­atric tools, they want cool stuff.

Main take-way: baby boomers are always “awake” and rein­vent­ing things…companies, adver­tis­ers, time to wake-up!

Full arti­cle: Boom time for retirees

2) The arti­cle is based upon this excel­lent McK­in­sey report: Serv­ing Aging Baby Boomers (sub­scrip­tion required)

- “The research pro­vides a call to action for com­pa­nies to under­stand and prop­er­ly serve the aging boomers as new cus­tomers, deter­mine what role boomers can play in their orga­ni­za­tion, shift prod­ucts and ser­vices to address the rise and fall of boomer spend­ing, and invest now to devel­op new prod­ucts and ser­vices to address aging boomers needs, espe­cial­ly the unpre­pared seg­ment.”

3) Some bad news on cog­ni­tive health and aging, based on a study just pub­lished: Par­tial Recall: Why Mem­o­ry Fades with Age (Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can)

But what is it that actu­al­ly caus­es mem­o­ry and oth­er cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties to go soft with senes­cence? Pre­vi­ous research has shown that bun­dles of axons (tubu­lar pro­jec­tions sent out by neu­rons to sig­nal oth­er nerve cells) with­er over time. These con­duits, col­lec­tive­ly referred to as white mat­ter, help con­nect dif­fer­ent regions of the brain to allow for prop­er infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing.”

They fin­gered the poten­tial rea­son for the dip by doing fur­ther brain scans using dif­fu­sion ten­sor imag­ing, an MRI tech­nique that gauges how well white mat­ter is func­tion­ing by mon­i­tor­ing water move­ment along the axon­al bun­dles. If com­mu­ni­ca­tion is strong, water flows as if cas­cad­ing down a cel­ery stalk, says Randy Buck­n­er, a cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist at Har­vard; if it is dis­rupt­ed, the pat­tern looks more like a drop of dye in a water buck­et that has scat­tered in all direc­tions. The lat­ter was more evi­dent in the old­er group, an indi­ca­tion that their white mat­ter had lost some of its integri­ty.”

Main take-away: what’s is new is that the study showed how a main fac­tor in cog­ni­tive decline is the weak­en­ing of the main “bridges” between dif­fer­ent parts of the brain. Which is why spe­cial­ized, local abil­i­ties such as vocab­u­lary may improve over time, while high­er-order ones, such as plan­ning or rea­son­ing, that require the inte­gra­tion of mul­ti­ple brain areas and func­tions, decline.

Full arti­cle: Par­tial Recall: Why Mem­o­ry Fades with Age

4) And some good news: Old­er Adults with Mild Mem­o­ry Impair­ment Still Ben­e­fit from Cog­ni­tive Train­ing in Areas not Reliant on Mem­o­riza­tion

- “Old­er adults with pre-exist­ing mild mem­o­ry impair­ment ben­e­fit as much as those with nor­mal mem­o­ry func­tion from cer­tain forms of cog­ni­tive train­ing that don’t rely on mem­o­riza­tion, accord­ing to a study pub­lished this week in the Jour­nal of the Inter­na­tion­al Neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal Soci­ety. These find­ings could indi­cate the abil­i­ty for old­er adults to main­tain skills that allow them to car­ry out dai­ly tasks and lead a high­er qual­i­ty of life.”

- “In the study sup­port­ed by the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH), old­er adults who were oth­er­wise healthy and liv­ing inde­pen­dent­ly received train­ing focused on tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive skills. A small num­ber of par­tic­i­pants in the study were found to have a decline in their abil­i­ty to form new mem­o­ries of expe­ri­ences or facts, an abil­i­ty called declar­a­tive mem­o­ry. These indi­vid­u­als were unable to improve their mem­o­riza­tion skills, but were able to improve their rea­son­ing skills and become faster at pro­cess­ing visu­al infor­ma­tion.”

Main take-away: some of those areas that tend to decline as we age can be trained and improved (or, at least, the rate of decline reduced).

5) One impor­tant impli­ca­tion that nei­ther the arti­cle nor the report above cov­er enough is how all this will impact Cor­po­rate Hir­ing and Train­ing prac­tices to help boomers stay healthy and pro­duc­tive as long as pos­si­ble. You can read more about our thoughts at Train­ing the Aging Work­force and also enjoy this con­cept map on Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness and The Future of Work

6) The arti­cle Ten Impor­tant Truths About Aging pro­vides an overview of how cog­ni­tive health evolves with age and poten­tial inter­ven­tions. With all the debate these days between phys­i­cal vs. men­tal exer­cise, not to talk about com­put­er-based brain fit­ness gyms, it is impor­tant to under­stand the roles of both.

Guess which demo­graph­ic group will rein­vent life­long cog­ni­tive fit­ness and health habits?

Cred­it for pic: Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

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7 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Thank you for the num­bers. Very use­ful for an upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion.

  2. James says:

    Once again, Alvaro, you have assem­bled some fan­tas­tic resources. Thank you and Hap­py New Year!

  3. Alvaro says:

    Mike, James, thanks for the kind words, and Hap­py 2008!

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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.

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