Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive News November-December 2008

Here you have sev­er­al recent arti­cles and devel­op­ments wor­thy of atten­tion:Brain Health News

1) Boom times for brain train­ing games (CNN)
2) Nav­i­gat­ing the brain fit­ness land­scape: do’s and don’ts (McK­night’s Long Term Care News)
3) USA Hock­ey and Intel­li­gym (press release)
4) Brain Fit­ness at New York Pub­lic Library (NYPL blog)
5) McDon­nell Foun­da­tion grant har­ness­es cog­ni­tive sci­ence to improve stu­dent learn­ing (press release)
6) Health insur­ance firms offer­ing online cog­ni­tive ther­a­py for insom­nia (Los Ange­les Times)
7) Head­Min­der Cog­ni­tive Sta­bil­i­ty Index: Com­put­er­ized Neu­rocog­ni­tive … (Press release)
8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intel­li­gent Life)
9) Work­ing Lat­er in Life May Facil­i­tate Neur­al Health (Cere­brum)
10) The Cool Fac­tor: Nev­er Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

Links, select­ed quotes and com­men­tary:

In the News

1) Boom times for brain train­ing games (CNN)

Includes my quote “[Brain fit­ness] is not just some fad. The mar­ket is much deep­er than Nin­ten­do.”

Com­ment: This arti­cle pro­vides is a very good mar­ket overview. The reporter and I also dis­cussed in depth the need for bet­ter con­sumer edu­ca­tion and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment, so peo­ple can make informed deci­sions, and for cog­ni­tive assess­ments to serve as inde­pen­dent base­line, help iden­ti­fy pri­or­i­ties and mea­sure results. Please note that our mar­ket esti­mates do include rev­enues of com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ments, today most­ly used in clin­i­cal tri­als, and with­in the mil­i­tary and sports teams.

2) Nav­i­gat­ing the brain fit­ness land­scape: do’s and don’ts (McK­night’s Long Term Care News)

Com­ment: “Choos­ing the right cog­ni­tive fit­ness prod­uct or pro­gram for senior liv­ing res­i­dents is hard­er than it sounds. But under­stand­ing res­i­dents’ needs, iden­ti­fy­ing your objec­tives and con­sid­er­ing the total cost of own­er­ship will help set you on the right path.”
New ini­tia­tives

3) USA Hock­ey and Intel­li­gym (press release)

- “USA Hock­ey, with part­ners ACE (Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing) and the BIRD (Bina­tion­al Indus­tri­al Research and Devel­op­ment) Foun­da­tion, have announced plans to devel­op a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­uct that will, for the first time ever, pro­vide play­ers a train­ing tool to devel­op “hock­ey sense.”

- “To be called Hock­ey Intel­li­Gym, the soft­ware-based prod­uct will fur­nish play­ers with a high­ly effec­tive train­ing tool to devel­op per­cep­tion and deci­sion-mak­ing skills. Fur­ther, it will enable coach­es to fine-tune the train­ing pro­gram and fol­low-up on the progress of their play­ers.”

- “We’re real­ly into unchar­tered ter­ri­to­ry with the devel­op­ment of Hock­ey Intel­li­Gym, said Dave Ogre­an, exec­u­tive direc­tor of USA Hock­ey. “With the exper­tise of ACE and the sup­port of the BIRD Foun­da­tion, we’ll be able to pro­duce a prod­uct that will give our play­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve in areas that train­ing has nev­er before been avail­able.

- “It is antic­i­pat­ed that the prod­uct will be avail­able in Decem­ber 2010”

Com­ment:  this ini­tia­tive is very mean­ing­ful for two rea­sons: first, it shows how the Brain Fit­ness field is com­posed of sev­er­al mar­ket seg­ments (we cov­er ACE as one of the com­pa­nies in the Cor­po­rate, Mil­i­tary & Sports seg­ment) beyond what we can call “healthy aging”. Sec­ond, it beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trates the poten­tial to enhance cog­ni­tive per­for­mance at all ages — to improve qual­i­ty of life, dri­ving skills, job-relat­ed skills…for more con­text, read: Cog­ni­tive Train­ing for Bas­ket­ball Game-Intel­li­gence: Inter­view with Prof. Daniel Gopher

4) Brain Fit­ness at New York Pub­lic Library (NYPL blog)

- “After attend­ing a recent staff train­ing ses­sion offered by the library’s Office of Staff Devel­op­ment, I decid­ed to return to a habit of my childhood–eating sar­dines.”
— key pil­lars for brain health …are… “1) A bal­anced diet; 2) Car­dio­vas­cu­lar phys­i­cal exer­cise; 3) Stress man­age­ment; and 4) Brain exer­cise: Nov­el­ty, Vari­ety, Chal­lenge (as long as it does­n’t stress us out).”

Com­ment: A few weeks ago I had the plea­sure to give a talk to one hun­dred or so staff mem­bers at New York Pub­lic Library. As you would expect, it was a very stim­u­lat­ing group, and one of the par­tic­i­pants wrote a fun blog post. The very inter­est­ing trend to observe here is the grow­ing role of pub­lic libraries in pro­vid­ing qual­i­ty brain health infor­ma­tion.

5) McDon­nell Foun­da­tion grant har­ness­es cog­ni­tive sci­ence to improve stu­dent learn­ing (press release)

- “Using what cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists are dis­cov­er­ing in the lab­o­ra­to­ry to improve learn­ing in the class­room is the goal of a $6.47 mil­lion col­lab­o­ra­tive activ­i­ty grant to Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty from the James S. McDon­nell Foun­da­tion (JSMF).”

- “The aim of the grant is to take the knowl­edge that cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists have gained about learn­ing and mem­o­ry from lab­o­ra­to­ry exper­i­men­ta­tion and to devel­op tech­niques to improve learn­ing in the class­rooms,” said Hen­ry L. “Rod­dy” Roedi­ger III, Ph.D., prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor on the grant and the James S. McDon­nell Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor in Arts & Sci­ences.

Com­ment: this is great news, but it would be even bet­ter would pub­lish­ers be the ones devel­op­ing these new tech­niques and cur­ricu­lum — it is time to start mov­ing beyond a pure­ly con­tent-based approach and intro­duce the eval­u­a­tion and enhance­ment of what we can call “cog­ni­tive func­tions for life”.

6) Health insur­ance firms offer­ing online cog­ni­tive ther­a­py for insom­nia (Los Ange­les Times)

- “help­ing con­sumers get a good night’s sleep has become a pri­or­i­ty for most of the top-tier U.S. health insur­ance com­pa­nies, includ­ing Well­Point, Aet­na, Cigna, Kaiser Per­ma­nente and sev­er­al Blue Cross plans. Their new pro­grams don’t involve sleep­ing pills. Instead, insur­ers are advo­cat­ing the use of cog­ni­tive behav­ior ther­a­py. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, the ther­a­py has been done large­ly through face-to-face ses­sions, but many of the pro­grams are now avail­able online.”

- “And use of sleep­ing pills has sky­rock­et­ed. A study this year in the jour­nal Health Affairs found a 50% jump in sleep­ing pill use — from 5,445 peo­ple per 100,000 in 1998 to 8,194 per 100,000 peo­ple in 2006. Though one ver­sion of Ambi­en, a pop­u­lar sleep aid, is now avail­able as a low­er-cost gener­ic cost­ing about 50 cents per pill, new­er drugs such as Roz­erem and Lunes­ta cost about $4 and $5 per pill, respec­tive­ly, or a min­i­mum of near­ly $1,500 per year for patients who take a sleep­ing pill every night. Online behav­ioral ther­a­py pro­grams cost less than $40 per user, and face-to-face coun­sel­ing can range from about $300 to $1,800, depend­ing on how many ses­sions a patient goes through and what lev­el of spe­cial­ist, from social work­er to psy­chi­a­trist, pro­vides the ther­a­py.”

- “Unlike sleep­ing pills, coun­sel­ing is usu­al­ly a one-time thing and costs do not con­tin­ue year to year.”

Com­ment: To read more on this trend — see The Future of Com­put­er-assist­ed Cog­ni­tive Ther­a­py

7) Head­Min­der Cog­ni­tive Sta­bil­i­ty Index: Com­put­er­ized Neu­rocog­ni­tive … (Press release)

- “The Head­Min­der web-based Cog­ni­tive Sta­bil­i­ty Index (CSI) has proven more use­ful for blast-con­cus­sion detec­tion than the ANAM com­put­er­ized test bat­tery the DoD cur­rent­ly employs. The CSI pro­vides an imme­di­ate solu­tion to clear the back­log of 400,000 IED-exposed ser­vice mem­bers in less than two years.”

- “The CSI is a 30-minute, Inter­net-based, com­put­er­ized test that pro­vides auto­mat­ed, objec­tive mea­sures of atten­tion, mem­o­ry, response speed, and pro­cess­ing speed for ini­tial eval­u­a­tion of cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing. The CSI pro­duces stan­dard­ized reports that enable triage and deci­sion-mak­ing appro­pri­ate to a user’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions — from medic to neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist to neu­rol­o­gist and oth­er treat­ment team mem­bers.”

Com­ment: com­put­er-based neu­rocog­ni­tive assess­ments will play a crit­i­cal part in the brain fit­ness puz­zle. How long will it take before con­sumers can have access to a reli­able and cred­i­ble annu­al “men­tal check-up”/ cog­ni­tive base­line?

The Big Pic­ture

8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intel­li­gent Life)

- “Mil­lions more peo­ple are going to muse­ums, lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and operas; mil­lions more watch demand­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes or down­load seri­ous-mind­ed pod­casts. Not all these activ­i­ties count as mind-stretch­ing, of course. Some are down­right fluffy. But, says Don­na Ren­ney, the chief exec­u­tive of the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­vals, audi­ences increas­ing­ly want “the buzz you get from work­ing that lit­tle bit hard­er. This is a dra­mat­ic yet often unrecog­nised devel­op­ment. “When peo­ple talk and write about cul­ture, says Ira Glass, the cre­ator of the riv­et­ing pub­lic-radio show “This Amer­i­can Life”, it’s apoc­a­lyp­tic. We tell our­selves that every­thing is in bad shape. But the oppo­site is true. There’s an abun­dance of real­ly inter­est­ing things going on all around us.

- “Third, what does all this say about the wide­spread view that soci­eties are dumb­ing down, edu­ca­tion­al stan­dards are crum­bling and peo­ples abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate is col­laps­ing? The reply must be that it can­not be true across the board and that for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber, the oppo­site is the case: peo­ple want more intel­lec­tu­al­ly demand­ing things to see and hear, not few­er. Sure­ly both things are hap­pen­ing at once: part of the pop­u­la­tion is dumb­ing down, part is wis­ing up.”

Com­ment: For a relat­ed blog arti­cle, you may enjoy Exer­cise your brain in the Cog­ni­tive Age

9) Work­ing Lat­er in Life May Facil­i­tate Neur­al Health (Cere­brum)

- “Car­mi School­er at the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health, using a tech­nique that allowed him to assess causal rela­tion­ships, found that adults who per­formed intel­lec­tu­al­ly chal­leng­ing jobs across their life span showed more cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty in late adult­hood than those who per­formed less demand­ing jobs.”

- “Per­haps the most com­pelling evi­dence regard­ing the impact of nov­el expe­ri­ences on brain vol­ume and func­tion comes from a study at the Max Planck Insti­tute in Ger­many. Adults with a mean age of 59 spent three months learn­ing to jug­gle three balls. Although only about half the par­tic­i­pants were able to achieve com­pe­tence in this com­plex skill, those who suc­ceed­ed had increased vol­ume in a mediotem­po­ral area of the visu­al cor­tex as well as the nucle­us accum­bens and the hip­pocam­pus, sug­gest­ing that sus­tained nov­el expe­ri­ence can increase the sizes of neur­al struc­tures. Notably, the changes in the nucle­us accum­bens and hip­pocam­pus were tran­sient, dis­ap­pear­ing three months after the jug­gling ceased. This intrigu­ing study pro­vides clear evi­dence that con­tin­ued skill per­for­mance is nec­es­sary to main­tain some gains from expe­ri­ence, and it strong­ly sup­ports the “use it or lose it adage.”- “One of the pre­mier chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tu­ry lies in deter­min­ing what behav­iors will pro­tect neur­al health and then devel­op­ing pub­lic health ini­tia­tives to encour­age these behav­iors in our com­mu­ni­ties. Sound social poli­cies that encour­age old­er peo­ple to keep work­ing will have direct ben­e­fits to our eco­nom­ic sys­tem. It also could be neu­ro­pro­tec­tive, result­ing in lat­er onset of dement­ing ill­ness­es, an out­come that offers gains for soci­ety thanks to reduced care­giv­ing and health care costs, as well as extend­ed time with beloved fam­i­ly mem­bers.”

Com­ment: sim­ply spec­tac­u­lar arti­cle by Dr. Denise Park. When will we take brain fit­ness into account when select­ing careers, jobs, retire­ment poli­cies and  options?

10) The Cool Fac­tor: Nev­er Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

- “We even ele­vate such equi­lib­ri­um to the super­hu­man: calm, as applied to No Dra­ma Oba­ma, often comes linked to the mod­i­fi­er “preter­nat­ur­al.”

- “But the calm tem­pera­ment is not so super­hu­man, nor is it entire­ly the gift of the cho­sen few. It can be cul­ti­vat­ed, even as the world cleaves around us.”

- “So how do we get there with­out a steady diet of beta block­ers and Xanax? Calm, per se, does­n’t appear in the tax­on­o­my of those who study per­son­al­i­ty and tem­pera­ment.”

Com­ment: As the arti­cle lat­er dis­clos­es, this abil­i­ty is often called “emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion” by cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists, and its devel­op­ment can assist­ed with tools such as med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py and biofeed­back. Per­haps one day this will be part of every­body’s school cur­ricu­lum and lead­er­ship pro­grams?

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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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