Centre for Brain Fitness at Baycrest: Interview with Dr. William Reichman

In April 2008, Bay­crest, a lead­ing research insti­tute focused on aging and brain func­tion, received $10-mil­lion from the Ontario Gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a ground­break­ing Cen­tre for Brain Fit­ness. Its stat­ed goal was to “devel­op and com­mer­cial­ize a range of prod­ucts designed to improve the brain health of aging Ontar­i­ans and oth­ers around the world”.

Our gov­ern­ment is proud to sup­port Bay­crest and its invalu­able work, which is already lead­ing to the dis­cov­ery of impor­tant new tools and approach­es to treat­ing brain dis­eases asso­ci­at­ed with aging,” said Min­is­ter of Research and Inno­va­tion, John Wilkinson.

We have Baycrest’s CEO with us today, to explore why Ontario and Bay­crest chose to Bill Reichman Baycrestbecome pio­neers in this area, and dis­cuss some of the main oppor­tu­ni­ties, and chal­lenges. Dr. William E. Reich­man is Pres­i­dent and CEO of Bay­crest. Dr. Reich­man, an inter­na­tion­al­ly-known expert in geri­atric men­tal health and demen­tia, is also Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try on the Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Bill, thank you for your time. Let me start by ask­ing, giv­en that you just spoke at the recent Con­sumer Elec­tron­ic Show, what do you make of the grow­ing brain fit­ness field?

Bill Reich­man: it looks like a clas­sic exam­ple of a very promis­ing but still ear­ly stage field – a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ty and enthu­si­asm, but also a lot of prod­uct claims that are not backed by sol­id research. Think about the phys­i­cal fit­ness anal­o­gy: even today, after decades of progress, you still see peo­ple buy­ing research-based prod­ucts such as tread­mills but also all types of ran­dom machines they see on TV and have not been sub­ject to any val­i­da­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, con­sumers today do not know what to make of grow­ing brain fit­ness claims. As anoth­er speak­er point­ed out, for the indus­try to ful­fill its promise, it will need to be care­ful with research and claims, not to end up like the nutraceu­ti­cals category.

By the way, let me rec­og­nize that the work you are doing with Sharp­Brains reports and your web­site is very impor­tant to offer qual­i­ty information.

Thank you. Let’s step back for a moment. Tak­ing a, say, 10 years view, what is the main oppor­tu­ni­ty that tech­nol­o­gy-based brain fit­ness can offer to society?

First of all, let me say that I think we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make major progress in Brain Health in the XXI cen­tu­ry, sim­i­lar to what hap­pened with Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Health in the XX, and tech­nol­o­gy will play a cru­cial role.

Giv­en the rapid advances we are wit­ness­ing today in the research and tech­nol­o­gy are­nas, I feel con­fi­dent in say­ing that in less than 10 years we will have both valid and reli­able assess­ments of cog­ni­tive func­tions, that will be used both by con­sumers at home and in a vari­ety of health set­tings, and a bet­ter knowl­edge of what spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tive inter­ven­tions may help spe­cif­ic groups of patients.

Qual­i­ty and wide­ly avail­able assess­ments are a crit­i­cal part of the puz­zle. Con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als need easy-to-use, low cost, assess­ments to mea­sure both their needs and the impact of dif­fer­ent inter­ven­tions. Bay­crest is going to take a lead­er­ship role in this area—we believe that the devel­op­ment of a tool equiv­a­lent to the blood pres­sure cuff will have great impact on brain health in the areas of pre­ven­tion and treatment.

Anoth­er impor­tant com­po­nent will need to be pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment and train­ing of health pro­fes­sion­als. What is Bay­crest doing in that direction?

We are very active in knowl­edge exchange using modal­i­ties such as tele­health. For exam­ple, we run a Behav­ioral Neu­ro­science Rounds vir­tu­al series to share best prac­tices with hos­pi­tals in Cana­da, the Mid­dle East, and prob­a­bly soon the USA too.

Tell us both about the Cen­tre for Brain Fit­ness launched last year, and the Wom­en’s Brain Health Ini­tia­tive you have just announced.

As you know, the gov­ern­ment of Ontario and local donors invest­ed $20m in a new cen­ter here, housed in the Rot­man Research Insti­tute, to devel­op and com­mer­cial­ize brain fit­ness tech­nolo­gies. Bay­crest has tra­di­tion­al­ly been more focused on the research than the devel­op­ment side, so this is new and excit­ing step for us. We are now look­ing to hire the inau­gur­al Direc­tor for the Cen­tre of Brain Fit­ness, so let us know if you have any sug­ges­tions. We are look­ing for a glob­al­ly rec­og­nized leader in neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty research and cog­ni­tive neu­rore­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. As an adjunct to the Cen­tre, we are in the process of cre­at­ing a spin-off that will help iden­ti­fy and pri­or­i­tize com­mer­cial appli­ca­tions of our research. You have dis­cussed this with Veroni­ka Litin­s­ki from MaRS Ven­ture group who is part­ner­ing with us.

Our tra­di­tion­al research strengths have been cog­ni­tive assess­ments and cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion, so it is a nat­ur­al exten­sion for us to expand our focus to include healthy aging and the needs of an aging work­force , and to inves­ti­gate new plat­forms such as PDAs to enable peo­ple to func­tion at the high­est pos­si­ble level.

The Women’s brain health ini­tia­tive was spear­head by friends of Bay­crest, active women of the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion. They are inter­est­ed in research to iden­ti­fy strate­gies and meth­ods to pre­vent Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, which affects women dis­pro­por­tion­al­ly giv­en their longer life expectan­cy and fre­quent sta­tus as care­givers, and also in spe­cif­ic gen­der relat­ed top­ics such as the impact of female hor­mones on brain devel­op­ment and func­tion. They are rais­ing funds to sup­port new ini­tia­tives in women’s brain health and aging at Bay­crest and sup­port­ing women neu­ro­sci­en­tists and enabling their research to be rel­e­vant and sen­si­tive to women’s brain health concerns.

A quick clar­i­fi­ca­tion – you men­tion your tra­di­tion­al focus on cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion. Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists have been using com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams for years to sup­port post-stroke and post-trau­mat­ic brain injury recov­ery, two prob­lems that affect mil­lions of peo­ple yet don’t seem to attract enough atten­tion giv­en the cur­rent media theme on baby boomers and healthy aging. What is your cen­ter doing in that area?

Two of our researchers, Drs. Don­ald Stuss and Gor­don Winocur, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ian Robert­son of Trin­i­ty Col­lege, Dublin, recent­ly released the main text­book in that area, titled Cog­ni­tive Neu­rore­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, pub­lished by Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press. You should ask them more spe­cif­ic ques­tions about the present state of the field.

I will. Final­ly, what is the main obsta­cle you see today for the devel­op­ment of a sus­tain­able brain fit­ness mar­ket that can ful­fill its promise?

I’d say the lack of wide­ly accept­ed stan­dards for out­come mea­sures. There are myr­i­ad ways to mea­sure the impact of cog­ni­tive exer­cise and oth­er lifestyle options – we can talk psy­cho­met­rics, assess­ments of dai­ly liv­ing, neu­roimag­ing find­ings. But, there is not a con­sen­sus yet on what to mea­sure and how. Dr. Gary Small and I were talk­ing recent­ly about the need to step up in this area, fig­ur­ing out how to engage a vari­ety of seri­ous stake­hold­ers in solv­ing this impor­tant issue.

I agree with that sen­ti­ment. We have already run over the time for this inter­view, but we need to fol­low-up on that. Thank you for your time!

My plea­sure.


Resources men­tioned in the interview:

- Cen­tre for Brain Fit­ness at Baycrest

- Cog­ni­tive Neu­rore­ha­bil­i­ta­tion textbook

Relat­ed arti­cles and resources

- Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series

- 10-Ques­tion Pro­gram Eval­u­a­tion Checklist

- Top 10 Brain Fit­ness Books


  1. Mike Martin on February 27, 2009 at 10:59

    still wait­ing to see this method men­tioned.. It is ful­ly mea­sur­able and has seen some won­der­ful results. Is it because it is in Swe­den that we don’t hear about it???? Well It is avail­able in the U.S. now

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