Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation

As men­tioned before, the World Eco­nom­ic Forum asked me to write “an 800 words sum­ma­ry of your most com­pelling action­able idea on the chal­lenges of geron­tol­ogy”, in prepa­ra­tion for the Inau­gur­al Sum­mit of the Glob­al Agen­da that will take place Novem­ber 7 to 9th in Dubai.A good num­ber of Sharp­Brains read­ers and clients offered their insights — and expressed an inter­est in read­ing the draft. So below you have — a pro­pos­al to cre­ate a Glob­al Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Inno­va­tion, build­ing on our exist­ing mar­ket research and advi­so­ry ser­vices work. Your thoughts?

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The Con­text

Grow­ing Demands on Our Brains: Pic­ture 6.7 bil­lion Prim­i­tive Brains inhab­it­ing a Knowl­edge Soci­ety where life­long learn­ing and mas­ter­ing con­stant change in com­plex envi­ron­ments are crit­i­cal for pro­duc­tive work, health and per­son­al ful­fill­ment.

Wel­come to Plan­et Earth, 2008.

Fur­ther stretched by increased longevi­ty: Now pic­ture close to 1 bil­lion of those brains over the age of 60 – and please remem­ber that, less than 100 years ago, life expectan­cy was between 30 to 40 years. The rapid­ly evolv­ing Knowl­edge Soci­ety is plac­ing new and enor­mous demands on our “prim­i­tive” human brains. And the longer our lifes­pans, the more obvi­ous the “cog­ni­tive gap”. Hence, from a health point of view, the grow­ing preva­lence of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and its pre­cur­sor Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment. And, from a work­place point of view, the per­cep­tion that old­er work­ers can’t learn new tricks, and are to be sub­sti­tut­ed by younger employ­ees as soon as prac­ti­cal.

Sig­nif­i­cance of life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty: The good news is that sub­stan­tive brain research is show­ing how our brains retain life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty of our brains to rewire them­selves respond­ing to expe­ri­ence), how they can phys­i­cal­ly be strength­ened ‑via the Cognitive/ Brain Reserve- and its func­tions enhanced, open­ing the way to slow-down if not reverse the cog­ni­tive decline that often comes with age. Use it and Improve It may be more accu­rate than Use It or Lose It, and help close the grow­ing cog­ni­tive gap. Humans can become the gar­den­ers of our own brains by focus­ing on four pil­lars: a bal­anced diet, car­dio­vas­cu­lar phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and brain exer­cise that incor­po­rates well-direct­ed nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge.

Cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy are ready to step up: a grow­ing num­ber of research-based frame­works and appli­ca­tions present clear main­stream oppor­tu­ni­ties, yet they are often mis­un­der­stood, since they are pre­sent­ed in frag­men­tary and con­fus­ing ways. Think about the poten­tial for hav­ing an annu­al “men­tal check-up” that helps set up a base­line and iden­ti­fy appro­pri­ate inter­ven­tions. Think about being able to pin­point spe­cif­ic needs and enhance, in non-inva­sive ways, spe­cif­ic neu­rocog­ni­tive func­tions, such as visu­al and audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing speed, work­ing mem­o­ry, exec­u­tive func­tions, emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion, atten­tion.

The Prob­lem

We need bridges: There seems to be mul­ti­ple areas of dis­con­nect between geron­tol­ogy, pre­ven­tive health­care over­all, cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy. Inno­v­a­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ships will be required to trans­form the grow­ing amount of main­stream inter­est and research find­ings into a ratio­nal, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, and sus­tain­able approach to neu­rocog­ni­tive fit­ness.

Grow­ing con­fu­sion among con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als: there are no “mag­ic pills” or “gen­er­al solu­tions”, but very use­ful tools when used appro­pri­ate­ly. Bet­ter assess­ments, tax­onomies and inte­grat­ed research efforts are required for the field to mature. Some brain func­tions tend to improve as we age, where­as some tend to decline. For exam­ple, as exec­u­tives tack­le many dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions over time, we grow an “intu­ition” (or crys­tal­lized pat­tern-recog­ni­tion) for best approach­es. As long as the envi­ron­ment does not change too rapid­ly, we can con­tin­ue to accu­mu­late wis­dom. But some areas of men­tal func­tion­ing typ­i­cal­ly decline.  We usu­al­ly see this in areas that test our capac­i­ty to learn and adapt to new envi­ron­ments, such as effort­ful prob­lem-solv­ing in nov­el sit­u­a­tions, pro­cess­ing speed, work­ing mem­o­ry, and atten­tion. Research has shown that all these areas can be enhanced in old­er brains. But the pri­or­i­ties are not the same for all indi­vid­u­als, or for all objec­tives (safer dri­ving, pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms, improv­ing mem­o­ry…) In sum­ma­ry, the field holds much promise, but the pic­ture is com­pli­cat­ed.

The Oppor­tu­ni­ty

A Glob­al Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Inno­va­tion com­posed of 100 lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, pol­i­cy-mak­ers, healthcare/ insur­ance providers and devel­op­ers of tech­nol­o­gy-based neu­rocog­ni­tive assess­ments and train­ing tools can pro­vide the tax­on­o­my, guid­ance and struc­ture required to guide appli­ca­tions of cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy in geron­tol­ogy and geri­atrics ‑and health­care over­all.

The 16 mem­bers of the Glob­al Agen­da Coun­cil on The Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy could be mem­bers of the con­sor­tium as thought-lead­ers and advo­cates for the needs and pri­or­i­ties of old­er adults. Sharp­Brains, the mar­ket research and advi­so­ry ser­vices firm focused on neu­rocog­ni­tive fit­ness, could help facil­i­tate the process as appro­pri­ate.

A trans­par­ent online pres­ence could facil­i­tate the engage­ment of pro­fes­sion­als and the pub­lic at large. Espe­cial­ly, yes, of brains over 60.

Out­comes:

1) Best prac­tices: to share best prac­tices in pre­ven­tive brain health edu­ca­tion, seniors hous­ing, hos­pi­tal-based pro­grams, insur­ance-led ini­tia­tives, pub­lic pol­i­cy efforts.
2) Stan­dards: to define stan­dards for neu­rocog­ni­tive assess­ments and train­ing tools,
3) Tax­on­o­my: to estab­lish a com­mon tax­on­o­my and lan­guage,
4) Edu­ca­tion: to engage pro­fes­sion­als and the pub­lic at large in well-informed “brain main­te­nance”,
5) Pol­i­cy readi­ness: to antic­i­pate pol­i­cy impli­ca­tions and improve readi­ness,
6) Research path: to pro­pose a research and appli­ca­tions path.

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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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