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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