Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

2 Responses

  1. Mike Martin says:

    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

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Health & Wellness, Neuroscience Interview Series, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Search in our Archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

About SharpBrains

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.

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)