Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive Heath News: January

Below you have a collection of recent news and announcements:

1) Brain Fitness Coming to Senior Exercise Classes (press release):

– “The American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) has announced a new brain fitness training program designed for exercise professionals. Brain Fitness for Older Adults teaches senior fitness instructors and personal trainers how to incorporate effective cognitive fitness into physical activity programs, offering seniors the opportunity to boost both physical and mental fitness simultaneously.”

Comment: a very timely initiative, given the interest we see in brain fitness education and initiatives, and the benefits of both physical and mental exercise on brain health. It makes a lot of sense to enhance public awareness through train-the-trainer initiatives. What remains unclear in this SFA program is what is the direct evidence for something that is billed as a “brain fitness training program” and seems to advocate one particular set of exercises and movements for their trainers and trainers’ clients. It is one thing to claim a product provides good information & is educational (like a book, or this blog, or classes on the brain & brain health) and another one to claim that it is a “brain fitness training program”, for which we should ask the same questions we ask of any other intervention to enhance cognitive functions, technology-based or not, following our 10-Question Program Evaluation Checklist. What is the direct evidence that seniors trained by “senior fitness instructors and personal trainers” using the methodology that the SFA advocates will “boost both physical and mental fitness simultaneously”?

Update: the SFA prepared answers to our 10- Questions, which you can access Here. They do seem to make sense in the abstract, but we still don’t which scientists, if any, reviewed and endorsed their program for accuracy and results, and it is unclear whether they present their activities as purely educational or as a proven intervention.

2) The MetLife Mature Market Institute has published a new report: titled Discovering What Matters: Balancing Money, Medicine and Meaning.

Description: “The adage that money can’t buy happiness is supported analytically by new research demonstrating the importance of having purpose in one’s life and that the most content people focus on the non-financial essentials in their lives, even during difficult economic times. Living the good life for middle-aged and older Americans is equated with spending time with family and friends, a previously unquantified finding, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute’s latest study, Discovering What Matters: Balancing Money, Medicine and Meaning, produced in conjunction with leading author, life coach, and executive educator, Richard Leider.  They describe the good life in terms of having health, a financial safety net and the time to do what is important to them.”

Report is available Here (PDF, 69 kb).

3) Good article in the New York Times:
An Epidemic of Crashes Among the Aging? Unlikely, Study Says

– “The (Insurance Institute for Highway Driving) insurance institute is conducting further research to determine why the risks appear to be going down for older drivers. It may be that today’s older drivers are simply in better physical and mental shape than their counterparts a decade ago, so they are not only less likely to make a driving mistake, but also less frail and better able to survive injuries.”

Comment: There is no doubt that, as a group, older persons of any given age are in better physical and mental shape today than their counterparts years ago. For context, worldwide life expectancy has increased more than 20 years in less than 6o years – so you can imagine how a person in his or her early 70s today is in better shape than someone in his or her mid-60s a few decades back.

Still, as the number of people over the age of 60 starts to grow exponentially given the influx of baby boomers, society at large will probably benefit from starting to think through 1) what are the types of programs, whether introduced and managed by the AARP, DMV or car insurance companies, that can help older adults drive safely for as long as they want and need, 2) what are the mechanisms to prevent having drivers in our roads who don’t possess the minimum perceptual and cognitive abilities required to drive “safely” (and what “safely” really means).

And, yes, we should probably have a similar conversation regarding teenage driving.
For related reading, you may enjoy these 2 articles:

Allstate: Can we improve Driver Safety using Posit Science InSight?

Improving Driving Skills and Brain Functioning- Interview with ACTIVE’s Jerri Edwards

4) On the importance of context for Cognitive and Emotional Health:
“Fortunately, our field has moved beyond partisan, and sometimes political, preference and now asks, What treatment is most effective for which patients in what context?” – Raymon A. Levy and J. Stuart Ablon, clinical director and director of the psychotherapy research program in the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A few week’s ago, New York Times Book Review included some Letters to the Editor that were even better that the original book review of American Therapy.

Comment: We are seeing a growing number of research-based tools and techniques (including cognitive therapy, reviewed in the article) to measure and help maintain cognitive and emotional health, both technology-based and technology-free. Now, none of them is a general solution (in the same way that no single drug is best for everyone and everything), so the question posed above couldn’t be more relevant.

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