Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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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