Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Training Games: Context, Trends, Questions

A spate of recent news cov­er­age on brain fit­ness and “brain train­ing” reflects a grow­ing inter­est in nat­ur­al, non-drug-based inter­ven­tions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This inter­est is very time­ly, giv­en the aging pop­u­la­tion, increas­ing Alzheimer’s rates, and soar­ing health care costs that place more empha­sis than ever on pre­ven­tion and chang­ing lifestyle.

This past Tues­day, the MIT Club of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging, and Smart­Sil­vers spon­sored an event on The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket: Build­ing Bet­ter Brains to explore the real­i­ties and myths of this grow­ing field. The pan­el was mod­er­at­ed by Zack Lynch, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion, and com­posed of a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and 3 CEOs of pro­gram devel­op­ers in the field. Before the pan­el, I had the chance to present an overview of the state of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket based on our upcom­ing report to be released on March 4th.

Why are we talk­ing about this field at all? Well, for one, an increas­ing num­ber of com­pa­nies are achiev­ing sig­nif­i­cant com­mer­cial suc­cess in pack­ag­ing “brain exer­cise”. An exam­ple is the line of Nin­ten­do games, such as Brain Age and Brain Train­ing, that have shipped over 15 mil­lion units world­wide despite lim­it­ed sci­en­tif­ic sup­port, since 2005. What is less vis­i­ble is that a num­ber of com­pa­nies and sci­en­tists are part­ner­ing to bring prod­ucts to mar­ket with a more sol­id clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion. We esti­mate the US mar­ket was $225m in 2007 (grow­ing from $100 in 2005). Wheras K12 Edu­ca­tion used to be the major seg­ment, adult con­sumers are respon­si­ble for most of that growth: we esti­mate the con­sumer seg­ment grew from a few mil­lion in 2005 to $80 m in 2007.

Who is buy­ing these prod­ucts? Yes, of course, many adults over 50 who want to pro­tect their mem­o­ry are among the pio­neers. 78 mil­lion baby boomers are eager to try new approach­es. A grow­ing num­ber of retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties and nurs­ing homes are offer­ing pro­grams to their res­i­dents to expand their usu­al fit­ness and social activ­i­ties. And we can’t for­get about K12 edu­ca­tion: cer­tain brain fit­ness soft­ware pack­ages have shown they can help kids who have dyslex­ia and relat­ed dif­fi­cul­ties.

Is there sci­ence behind these claims? Do these prod­ucts work? It depends on how we define “work”. If “work­ing” means quan­tifi­able short-term improve­ments after a num­ber of weeks of sys­tem­at­ic “brain train­ing” to improve spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills, then the answer is that a num­ber of pro­grams do seem to work. If , on the oth­er hand, “work­ing” means mea­sur­able long-term ben­e­fits, such as bet­ter over­all brain health as we age, or low­er inci­dence of Alzheimer’s symp­toms, the answer is that cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence sug­gests they may, but it is still too ear­ly to tell.

Are there any pub­lic pol­i­cy impli­ca­tions? We cer­tain­ly believe that there are. The Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol recent­ly part­nered with the Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion to devel­op a com­pre­hen­sive Cog­ni­tive Health roadmap to bet­ter guide research efforts and improve pub­lic edu­ca­tion on the lifestyle habits that every proud own­er of a brain could ben­e­fit from fol­low­ing. Giv­en the high rates of trau­mat­ic brain injuries and stress dis­or­ders found in a large num­ber of the men and women com­ing home from the Iraq war, the mil­i­tary is invest­ing heav­i­ly in research to help iden­ti­fy prob­lems to devel­op tools to solve them, and we expect that research will trans­late into wider health appli­ca­tions. No pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, to our knowl­edge, has direct­ly addressed his or her pri­or­i­ties in the cog­ni­tive health realm but, giv­en the grow­ing impor­tance and eco­nom­ic impact of brain-relat­ed dis­or­ders, we expect that to hap­pen soon.

What are some trends that exec­u­tives and investors should be look­ing at to under­stand this grow­ing mar­ket? Let me make a few pre­dic­tions:

1) An increased empha­sis on Brain Main­te­nance, from retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties to gyms and health clubs. Will health clubs one day offer brain fit­ness pro­grams, and per­haps “brain coach­es”? We think so.
2) Bet­ter and more wide­ly avail­able assess­ments of cog­ni­tive func­tion will enable of all us to estab­lish an objec­tive base­line of how our minds are evolv­ing, iden­ti­fy pri­or­i­ties for “work­outs” and lifestyle inter­ven­tions, and help us mea­sure progress. Sci­ence-fic­tion? Not real­ly. there are already pret­ty good tests used in clin­i­cal and med­ical envi­ron­ments, the chal­lenge will be to refine and pack­age those assess­ments in a con­sumer-friend­ly way.
3) We will see more and bet­ter com­put­er-based tools, each of which may be more appro­pri­ate to work on spe­cif­ic pri­or­i­ties. Just as we find a vari­ety of machines in health clubs today, in the future we can expect dif­fer­ent pro­grams tai­lored to train spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills.
4) More non-com­put­er based tools will also pro­vide much val­ue. There is more and more research on how med­i­ta­tion and cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, to men­tion 2 exam­ples, can be very effec­tive in lit­er­al­ly re-wiring parts of the brain.
5) Insur­ance Com­pa­nies will intro­duce incen­tives for mem­ber who want to fol­low brain fit­ness pro­grams. Per­haps even com­pa­nies will offer such pro­grams to employ­ees to attract and retain mature work­ers who want access to the best and the lat­est inno­va­tions to keep their minds sharp.

Now, this being a pret­ty new field, the pan­el dis­cussed sev­er­al open ques­tions, that will only be clar­i­fied with time:
— What is the right busi­ness mod­el? are we talk­ing about con­tent-dri­ven edu­tain­ment? or ther­a­peu­tic appli­ca­tions, per­haps with some reg­u­la­tions by the FDA? sell­ing soft­ware prod­ucts? online sub­scrip­tions?
— What is the killer appli­ca­tion? fun games with unproven brain ben­e­fits? pro­grams that improve the men­tal skills involved in spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties, such as dri­ving? appli­ca­tions that help slow down the pro­gres­sion from Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment to full-blown Alzheimer’s symp­toms?
— How will con­sumers and insti­tu­tions receive qual­i­ty infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion to nav­i­gate through the emerg­ing research and the over­whelm­ing num­ber of new pro­grams, sep­a­rat­ing real­i­ty from hype?

In sum­ma­ry, what were the main take-aways from the event?
1. Research indi­cates that a num­ber of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties (atten­tion, mem­o­ry…) can be assessed and trained
2. An emerg­ing mar­ket is start­ing to devel­op-grow­ing from an esti­mat­ed $100m in 2005 to $225m in 2007, in the US alone‑, and is poised to keep grow­ing at sig­nif­i­cant rates.
3. Many com­pa­nies are cur­rent­ly sell­ing prod­ucts direct to con­sumers (as well as through insti­tu­tions) with some­times unclear claims — this threat­ens to con­fuse con­sumers and present a major obsta­cle to the growth and cred­i­bil­i­ty of the sec­tor.

These top­ics, and more, and what we cov­er in depth in our upcom­ing report “The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2008,” to be pre­sent­ed on March 4th at the O’Reil­ly Emerg­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Con­fer­ence, and released the fol­low­ing week dur­ing Brain Aware­ness Week. If inter­est­ed, stay tuned!

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

5 Responses

  1. Kenneth Heinrich says:

    Hel­lo, Alvaro.

    Excit­ing stuff here!Is there now, or will there be short­ly, a seri­ous guide to find­ing com­put­er based brain train­ing prod­ucts? And sec­ond­ly, a good friend is mar­ket­ing direc­tor for an excel­lent com­pa­ny pro­vid­ing lifestyle train­ing for opti­mum health to com­pa­nies who wish to have a healthy work­force. It is very suc­cess­ful, and
    well designed and oper­at­ed by a staff with mas­ter’s and doc­tor­ates in Pub­lic Health. Is there some­one she should con­tact to see about imple­ment­ing brain train­ing in the menu of options they pro­vide?

    Thank you.


  2. sj says:

    well its nice and seri­ous guide of brain development.we hope soon­er or lat­er it will also be help­ful to improve our capac­i­ty of learn­ing things.

  3. Roger says:


    Very inter­est­ing all this infor­ma­tion sur­round­ing brain main­te­nance for seniors. I have also start­ed devel­op­ing a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing seniors with basic pc and inter­net skills. I already train seniors for a num­ber of years now so I have got­ten some guides togeth­er which in my expe­ri­ence approach teach­ing seniors in the cor­rect man­ner. Judge for your­self by down­load­ing my free report. This is very infor­ma­tive and help­ful for all begin­ners and espe­cial­ly seniors.

    Best wish­es


  4. Alvaro says:

    Ken­neth, the report we will release on March 4th is aimed at help­ing pro­fes­sion­als and insti­tu­tions under­stand and nav­i­gate this emerg­ing field. Please send us an email at infor­ma­tion (at) sharp­brains (dot) com regard­ing that oppor­tu­ni­ty, we’d be delight­ed to talk to your friend.

    Roger: will take a look at your site.

  5. Robert says:

    Well Roger, I was unable to deter­mine your web­site url, so i was unable to check it out.

Leave a Reply

Categories: Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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)