10 Innovations for the Cognitive Fitness of an Aging Society

Over the last few weeks I have  had the chance to par­tic­i­pate in theBrain3 Sum­mit of the Glob­al Agen­da run by the World Eco­nom­ic Forum, and the Forum on Neu­ro­science and Behav­ior Change by the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion. Both events were very stim­u­lat­ing, with excel­lent par­tic­i­pants and insight­ful agen­das, but I real­ized that still too few deci­sion-mak­ers are aware of the amount and qual­i­ty of inno­va­tion going on to trans­late find­ings from cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy into tools and prac­tices that may well rev­o­lu­tion­ize brain health and cog­ni­tive fit­ness over the next 5–10 years.

In the Thanks­giv­ing’s spir­it, let’s thank 10 pio­neers for emerg­ing inno­va­tions which are not “pie-in the-sky” ideas but well-thought out and scal­able approach­es that are already gain­ing trac­tion in the real-world. Note that most those of pio­neers will speak at the inau­gur­al Sharp­Brains Sum­mit:


1) The Gov­ern­ment of Ontario invests $10 mil­lion dol­lars to cre­ate a Cen­tre for Brain Fit­ness at Bay­crest. More info on their R&D pri­or­i­ties here. (Speak­er: Bill Reich­man).

Assess­ment tools

2) Brain Resource and OptumHealth Behav­ioral Solu­tions part­ner to offer an online assess­ment of brain func­tions (both cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al) through major employ­ers in the US. Great arti­cle here. (Speak­ers: Evian Gor­don and David White­house)

3) Ore­gon Health & Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty research­es the use of gam­ing tools for real-time cog­ni­tive mon­i­tor­ing, in order to help keep old­er per­sons inde­pen­dent, active, and pro­duc­tive in lat­er life. More info here. (Speak­ers: Misha Pavel and Hol­ly Jimi­son).

Training/ ther­a­py tools

4) Some of the pio­neers of cog­ni­tive behav­ioral ther­a­py (CBT) devel­op com­put­er­ized CBT to expand the reach of ther­a­pists and open the inter­ven­tion to more par­tic­i­pants. Some insur­ance com­pa­nies start to make such tools wide­ly avail­able. More info here. (Speak­er: Jesse Wright).

5) Insur­ance com­pa­nies (All­state), dri­ver asso­ci­a­tions (AAA), dri­ving schools (Young Dri­vers of Cana­da) part­ner with brain fit­ness soft­ware devel­op­ers (Posit Sci­ence, Cog­niFit) to bring to mar­ket inno­v­a­tive pro­grams to help eval­u­ate and train dri­ver fit­ness. Inter­view with AAA Peter Kissinger here. (Speak­ers: Tom War­den, Peter Chris­tian­son, Steven Aldrich, Schlo­mo Bret­znitz).

6) Researchers at USC Insti­tute for Cre­ative Tech­nolo­gies devel­op Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty and Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty approach­es both to help assess and to enhance neu­rocog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al func­tions. More info here. (Speak­er: Skip Riz­zo).

Deliv­ery models

7) A group of sci­en­tists and health pro­fes­sion­als in San­ta Bar­bara launch CFIT, the first all-inclu­sive “cog­ni­tive shop” to fill in the gap between what patients need and what the health sys­tem is offer­ing today. Inter­view on this ini­tia­tive here. (Speak­er: Ken­neth Kosik).


8 ) U Illi­nois’ Arthur Kramer mas­ter­minds much need­ed com­par­a­tive research of two key non-inva­sive inter­ven­tions for cog­ni­tive fit­ness: aer­o­bic fit­ness train­ing and com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing (includ­ing each in iso­la­tion and the com­bi­na­tion of both). Results are not avail­able yet, but we are look­ing for­ward to see­ing them pub­lished in 2010.

9) NIH helps devel­op basic infra­struc­ture with the devel­op­ment of the NIH Tool­box for assess­ment of Neu­ro­log­i­cal and Behav­ioral Func­tion to pro­vide valid, reli­able stan­darized instru­ments to mea­sure brain func­tions in clin­i­cal tri­als. More info here.

10) Researchers at Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute show, in a recent paper pub­lished in Sci­ence, how a non-inva­sive inter­ven­tion (cog­ni­tive train­ing) can direct­ly impact the dopamine sys­tem (a com­mon tar­get of drugs). More info here. (Speak­er: Torkel Kling­berg).

Thank you all for your excel­lent work!


  1. The Emotion Machine on November 30, 2009 at 8:52

    This is very excit­ing news! I cer­tain­ly feel there is grow­ing demand for cog­ni­tive fit­ness. For exam­ple, many col­lege stu­dents seek drugs like adder­all to help with papers and exams. But these solu­tions can some­times lead to drug addic­tion and oth­er risks. How­ev­er — if we could imple­ment the the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion in order to build focus in col­lege stu­dents then it can do won­ders for pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and learning.

    Mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion has also shown to help with those with ADHD, depres­sion, and oth­er men­tal ail­ments. These things should be taught to every­one! We should build a cur­ricu­lum to help teach kids these skills of mind.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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