Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edi­tion of our month­ly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tion Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science recent­ly pub­lished a spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion, and invit­ed me to con­tribute with an arti­cle titled Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age. Ground­break­ing brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve brain health and per­for­mance is immense, but we need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-health­care chan­nels. Click Here to read my arti­cle.


In May 2009 Sharp­Brains pub­lished The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2009, the main indus­try report for lead­ing orga­ni­za­tions prepar­ing their mem­bers, their clients, and their patients for the cog­ni­tive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a mar­ket sur­vey with 2,000+ respon­dents, detailed analy­sis of 20+ ven­dors, research briefs writ­ten by 12 lead­ing sci­en­tists and data and trends for 4 major cus­tomer seg­ments.webinar

Below we share the full Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry of the report and announce an exclu­sive webi­nar on Sep­tem­ber 29th to dis­cuss the State of the Mar­ket in more depth with buy­ers of the report.

To order the report and access both the report and the webi­nar, you can click Here. (Only $975 ‑a 25% dis­count- using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

State of the Mar­ket

The brain fit­ness field holds excit­ing promise for the future while pre­sent­ing clear oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges today. The good news is that there are more tools avail­able than ever before to assess and train a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive skills. The bad news is that there are no mag­ic pills and that con­sumers, while sat­is­fied over­all, seem con­fused by com­pet­ing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this ear­ly-stage mar­ket can mature in a more ratio­nal, struc­tured man­ner; but there is much work to be done. We esti­mate that the size of the U.S. brain fit­ness soft­ware (i.e., appli­ca­tions designed to assess or enhance cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties) mar­ket in 2008 was $265M  grow­ing 18% from $225M in 2007, and rep­re­sent­ing an annu­al­ized growth rate of 38% since 2005. Growth came in rough­ly equal parts from two seg­ments: con­sumers (grew from $80M to $95M) and health­care and insur­ance providers (grew from $65 to $80). K12 school sys­tems remained most­ly flat. The mil­i­tary, sports and cor­po­rate seg­ment con­tin­ued to expand but from a low­er base.

Advances in neu­ro­science and the inter­est of baby boomers in the con­cept and impli­ca­tions of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty are dri­ving pop­u­lar inter­est and effort into retain­ing men­tal sharp­ness. This in turn has fueled the inter­est of health­care and insur­ance providers to test and intro­duce brain fit­ness prod­ucts. A vari­ety of devel­op­ments in 2008 under­line the sec­tor’s annu­al growth and plants seeds for sig­nif­i­cant future break­throughs:

Inno­va­tion by pio­neer­ing insti­tu­tions: We esti­mate that around 300 res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties added com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams in 2008, mak­ing for an esti­mat­ed accu­mu­lat­ed total of over 700. Insur­ance providers All­state and OptumHealth launched major ini­tia­tives, while the USA Hock­ey League announced an upcom­ing hock­ey-spe­cif­ic brain fit­ness soft­ware pack­age.
Research themes got rein­forced:
1) Lifestyle, led by aer­o­bic exer­cise, can improve cog­ni­tion and reduce demen­tia risk,
2) Build­ing the cog­ni­tive reserve through lead­ing men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives pro­vides neu­ro­pro­tec­tion to help stay sharp­er longer,
3) Spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties can be assessed and enhanced through the use of appro­pri­ate tools.

Fund­ing events and acqui­si­tions: A num­ber of devel­op­ers raised mon­ey dur­ing the year: Dakim ($10.6m), Cog­niFit ($5m), Lumos Labs ($3m), Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing ($1.5m), Viv­i­ty Labs ($1m). Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing bought Solil­o­quy and Posit Sci­ence bought Visu­al Aware­ness.

Pub­lic pol­i­cy & pub­lic sec­tor ini­tia­tives:
1) a new US Army pol­i­cy required com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive screen­ings of all sol­diers before deploy­ment,
2) the Gov­ern­ment of Ontario invest­ed $10m in Bay­crest to devel­op and com­mer­cial­ize brain fit­ness tech­nolo­gies.
3) The Men­tal Health Par­i­ty Act will take effect in Jan­u­ary 2010,
4) a grow­ing empha­sis by Medicare to reduce hos­pi­tal read­mis­sions (which can be pre­dict­ed by patien­t’s func­tion­al sta­tus, includ­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing).

Mar­ket Sur­vey

In Jan­u­ary 2009 we con­duct­ed an online sur­vey to under­stand emerg­ing beliefs, atti­tudes and habits among deci­sion-mak­ers and ear­ly adopters. High­lights of the 2,000+ respons­es were:

61% of respon­dents Strong­ly Agree with the state­ment “Address­ing cog­ni­tive and brain health should be a health­care pri­or­i­ty.” But, 65% Agree/Strongly Agree with “I don’t real­ly know what to expect from prod­ucts mak­ing brain claims. In sum, inter­est and con­fu­sion.
The top three out of ten pre­dic­tions (“Over the next 5 to 7 years we will see) with the high­est per­cent­age of respon­dents who Strong­ly Agree are: 1) a wide selec­tion of com­put­er-based pro­grams, for dif­fer­ent uses (33%), 2) more loca­tions and tools inte­grat­ing phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise (27%), and 3) brain fit­ness becom­ing a main­stream top­ic, for most if not all ages (27%).

Cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion among buy­ers (both of elec­tron­ic prod­ucts and puz­zle books) was good over­all but could be bet­ter. To the state­ment, “I got real val­ue for my mon­ey, the results were: 18% Strong­ly Agree, 35% Agree, 33% Neu­tral, 11% Dis­agree, 3% Strong­ly Dis­agree.

Top four prod­ucts among buy­ers: 1) Posit Sci­ence, 2) Puz­zle Books, 3) Nin­ten­do Brain Age, 4) They seem to attract dif­fer­ent demo­graph­ic groups, and present dif­fer­ent lev­els of cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion: Posit Sci­ence (53% Agree) and (51%) do bet­ter than Puz­zle Books (39%) and Nin­ten­do (38%) at “I have seen the results I want­ed.” Giv­en very dif­fer­ent price points, the rank changes with “I got real val­ue for my mon­ey : (65% Agree), Puz­zle Books (60%), Posit Sci­ence (52%), Nin­ten­do (51%).

Com­pet­i­tive Land­scape

In 2008 the com­pet­i­tive land­scape start­ed to become more clear­ly defined, with a num­ber of play­ers tak­ing the lead in spe­cif­ic nich­es both on the assess­ment and train­ing sides of the mar­ket.

Our Mar­ket and Research Momen­tum analy­sis result­ed in the cat­e­go­riza­tion of twen­ty-one com­pa­nies into four groups to bet­ter pre­dict long-term sus­tain­abil­i­ty of com­pa­ny and approach.

- Lead­ers: Brain Resource, Cog­ni­tive Drug Research, Lumos Labs, Posit Sci­ence
- High Poten­tials: Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing, Cogmed, Cog­niFit, Houghton Mif­flin, NovaV­i­sion, Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing, Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing, Trans­An­a­lyt­ics
- Cross­words 2.0: Dakim, Nin­ten­do, Viv­i­ty Labs
- Wait & See: Advanced Brain Tech­nolo­gies, Brain Cen­ter Amer­i­ca, CNS Vital Signs, CogState, Learn­ing Enhance­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, Vig­or­ous Mind

Our prod­uct analy­sis shows that the prod­ucts with high­er lev­els of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion are also the ones focused on more spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive needs. It is impor­tant to eval­u­ate the clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion per cog­ni­tive skill(s) tar­get­ed, togeth­er with oth­er prod­uct attrib­ut­es, to find a poten­tial prod­uct to match spe­cif­ic needs. Not even the train­ing prod­ucts with rel­a­tive high­er lev­els of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion, by Cogmed and NovaV­i­sion, should be seen as the best inter­ven­tion for every sin­gle indi­vid­ual and pur­pose.

The Sci­ence

There is grow­ing evi­dence that cog­ni­tion is more mal­leable that once thought, and that lifestyle, non-inva­sive inter­ven­tions, and inva­sive inter­ven­tions all play a role in aug­ment­ing or main­tain­ing cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. With that con­text, tech­nol­o­gy-based assess­ments and train­ing tools may be an impor­tant part of the over­all mix.

Com­put­er­ized pro­grams have been found to be an effi­cient and scal­able way to assess and train a range of spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills. How­ev­er, they have not been found to be “gen­er­al solu­tions” that can address all cog­ni­tive pri­or­i­ties for every­one. Con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als need to make informed deci­sions about which, if any, tools may be worth try­ing with­out falling prey to man­u­fac­tur­ers inflat­ed claims or negat­ing the val­ue of those tools as a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple.

We asked thir­teen lead­ing sci­en­tists to exam­ine the state of the research, and emerg­ing impli­ca­tions, in five areas:

The neu­ro­pro­tec­tive val­ue of cog­ni­tive activ­i­ty in gen­er­al: this is well estab­lished through a vari­ety of long-term epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies.

The impor­tance of using cog­ni­tive assess­ments as pre­dic­tors of dri­ving safe­ty: dri­ving may well become one of the major areas where cog­ni­tive assess­ments and train­ing can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the next few years. Update: in July 2009, AAA announced a new ini­tia­tive to deploy Posit Sci­ence’s Dri­ve­Sharp to Assess and Train Old­er Dri­ver’s Brains

The val­ue of com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing tar­get­ing work­ing mem­o­ry, audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing, visu­al pro­cess­ing: a grow­ing amount of pub­lished evi­dence shows the clear ben­e­fits, and the lim­i­ta­tions, from dif­fer­ent train­ing approach­es.

The cog­ni­tive effects of action and strat­e­gy videogames: it is impos­si­ble to answer the ques­tion “are videogames good or bad” with­out clar­i­fy­ing a) which videogames, b) good or bad for what? Spe­cif­ic games are show­ing the kind of ben­e­fits that jus­ti­fy edu­ca­tion­al and health uses.

The need for objec­tive mark­ers: inno­v­a­tive approach­es are try­ing to solve this major bot­tle­neck.

Cus­tomer Seg­ments

The demand for brain fit­ness soft­ware presents dif­fer­ent dynam­ics in each of the four main cus­tomer seg­ments:

Con­sumers: “Brain fit­ness” is quick­ly becom­ing a main­stream cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non with all of the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that this devel­op­ment rep­re­sents. On the one hand, it was time for adults of all ages to start pay­ing more atten­tion to the impact of lifestyle options on cog­ni­tive health, includ­ing the poten­tial use­ful­ness of new tools beyond cross­word puz­zles and Sudoku, dri­ven by recent sci­en­tif­ic find­ings such as adult neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and the cog­ni­tive reserve. On the oth­er hand, the over­whelm­ing amount of super­fi­cial media cov­er­age and aggres­sive claims is cre­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­fu­sion among con­sumers, and skep­ti­cism among researchers and health­care pro­fes­sion­als.

Health­care and Insur­ance Providers: A good num­ber of inno­va­tors are active­ly test­ing and incor­po­rat­ing a vari­ety of brain fit­ness tools, which over time should help bet­ter inte­grate cog­ni­tive health issues into main­stream health­care. Seniors hous­ing oper­a­tors have quick­ly been adding cog­ni­tive train­ing to their range of health and well­ness activ­i­ties. Insur­ance com­pa­nies are run­ning major ini­tia­tives aimed at dri­ver safe­ty and improv­ing the accu­ra­cy of diag­nos­tics. Drug com­pa­nies are adding cog­ni­tive test­ing to their tri­als. Grow­ing evi­dence is sup­port­ing the use of spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions in clin­i­cal con­di­tions such as atten­tion deficits and stroke/traumatic brain injury, among oth­ers.

K12 School Sys­tems: Despite grow­ing poten­tial, there were few mean­ing­ful mar­ket devel­op­ments in this seg­ment in 2008. Rev­enues and the com­pet­i­tive land­scape were basi­cal­ly stag­nant. It is in the applied research area where we are start­ing to see seeds of poten­tial future growth, giv­en emerg­ing evi­dence that cog­ni­tive train­ing does not only con­tribute to cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment but, when direct­ed appro­pri­ate­ly, can also impact aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance in sub­jects like math and read­ing.

Mil­i­tary, Sports Teams, Cor­po­rate: Three of the trends we iden­ti­fied last year, includ­ing base­line assess­ments, train­ing to improve per­for­mance, and appli­ca­tions for the aging pop­u­la­tion, con­tin­ued and grew sig­nif­i­cant­ly in 2008. First, the US Army intro­duced a new pol­i­cy requir­ing manda­to­ry com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive base­lines for sol­diers before deploy­ment, in order to bet­ter iden­ti­fy the extent of poten­tial brain dam­age such as Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury. Sec­ond, the USA Hock­ey League part­nered to devel­op a new cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tion train­ing to improve the per­for­mance of hock­ey play­ers. Third, the Con­fer­ence Board and the Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives launched a book­let and web­site to raise aware­ness about cog­ni­tive fit­ness issues among large cor­po­ra­tions.

Future Direc­tions

Inno­v­a­tive part­ner­ships will be required to trans­form the grow­ing amount of main­stream inter­est and research find­ings into a ratio­nal, inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, and sus­tain­able approach to brain/ neu­rocog­ni­tive fit­ness. There are no “mag­ic pills” or “gen­er­al solu­tions” but there are use­ful tools when used appro­pri­ate­ly. Bet­ter infor­ma­tion, assess­ments, tax­onomies and inte­grat­ed research efforts are required for the field to mature. The pri­or­i­ties are not the same for all indi­vid­u­als, or for all objec­tives (such as safer dri­ving, pre­vent­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms, improv­ing mem­o­ry). The field holds much promise, but the pic­ture is com­plex.

We con­tin­ue to pre­dict that between now and 2015 brain fit­ness will become a main­stream con­cept, con­sumers and pro­fes­sion­als will be able to lever­age bet­ter tools, and that a grow­ing ecosys­tem will enable this oppor­tu­ni­ty.

The key ques­tion, of course, is how much val­ue will com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools deliv­er in the real world? The US brain fit­ness soft­ware mar­ket may grow to be between $1 bil­lion to $5 bil­lion by 2015. Whether the mar­ket reach­es the high end of that range or stays clos­er to the low­er end depends on how the whole field address­es the most impor­tant prob­lems.

When asked “What is most impor­tant prob­lem in the field? respon­dents to our sur­vey pri­or­i­tized Pub­lic Aware­ness (39%), Nav­i­gat­ing claims (21%), Research (15%), Health­care Cul­ture (14%), Lack of Assess­ment (6%), and Oth­er (5%). We believe that in years to come we will see progress in all those areas, and a deep­er under­stand­ing of “Who needs what when?”, the most impor­tant unan­swered ques­tion so far.

The Webi­nar

On Tues­day Sep­tem­ber 29th, we will host a 90-minute webi­nar to review the find­ings of the report in more depth (60-min­utes) and dis­cuss our clients’ per­spec­tives and ques­tions (30-min­utes).

Time: Tues­day Sep­tem­ber 29th, 9am Pacif­ic Time/ noon East­ern Time.

To order the report and access report and webi­nar, click Here. (only $975 ‑a 25% dis­count- using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

To pre­view sev­er­al pages of the report, click Here. To view an info­graph­ic, click Here.

If you are an exist­ing client, we will con­tact you direct­ly with Reg­is­tra­tion details.

Enjoy the rest of the sum­mer!

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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.

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