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Do You Mind?

Ask your­self the tough ques­tions: Do you mind your brain? Do you know your nog­gin’? Can you claim cere­bral own­er­ship or is your men­tal a rental?

Although these ques­tions are rel­e­vant at vir­tu­al­ly all lifes­pan stages, firm answers can some­times appear incon­ceiv­able.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly with advanc­ing age, atten­tion to men­tal per­for­mance is often either aban­doned or framed in terms of per­ceived impair­ment and decline.  Now, I have pre­vi­ous­ly shared my mes­sage on mind­ing the aging brain with Sharp­Brains read­ers.  As a cog­ni­tive neu­ropsy­chi­a­trist pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in lat­er-life phe­nom­e­na, I tend to stick to my area of exper­tise.  Nev­er­the­less, whether you are elder or not, I implore you to take these ideas to heart…do you mind?

Just as brain fit­ness is for all, aging is sim­i­lar­ly uni­ver­sal.  Every thought­ful indi­vid­ual rec­og­nizes the unavoid­able answer to “are you aging?”  How­ev­er, the answer to “how are you aging?” is less obvi­ous to most, and is even more obscure when con­sid­er­ing lifes­pan cog­ni­tive tra­jec­to­ries.  In fact, no con­sen­sus lex­i­con yet exists to describe the ways in which cog­ni­tion can be mod­u­lat­ed to achieve desired lifestyle or clin­i­cal goals.

In my lat­est pub­li­ca­tion on tech­nol­o­gy-enabled cog­ni­tive train­ing for healthy elders, I out­line a pro­posed lex­i­con for pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion inter­ven­tions, as well as a frame­work for clas­si­fy­ing puta­tive ben­e­fits of cog­ni­tive train­ing.  Here, I will present these con­cepts with­out regard to age, as they apply equal­ly well to all sapi­ent sapi­ens:

?      Cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion refers to non­tar­get­ed engage­ment that gen­er­al­ly enhances men­tal func­tion­ing.  Exam­ples might include edu­ca­tion­al endeav­ors or life review.

?      Cog­ni­tive train­ing refers to the­o­ry-dri­ven inter­ven­tion, sup­port­ed by a con­cep­tu­al frame­work and spec­i­fied neu­rocog­nitve mech­a­nisms. Exam­ples might include mnemon­ic strat­e­gy adop­tion or soft­ware-based brain fit­ness pro­grams.

?      Cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion strate­gies address impair­ments result­ing from neu­ropsy­chi­atric dis­or­ders.  Exam­ples might include post-stroke lan­guage ther­a­py or tar­get­ed pro­grams to reme­di­ate atten­tion deficits or dyslex­ia.

?      Cog­ni­tive enrich­ment fur­ther includes a range of lifestyle behav­iors which can ben­e­fit cog­ni­tive per­for­mance, includ­ing mul­ti­modal brain fit­ness inter­ven­tions involv­ing phys­i­cal, nutri­tion­al, and social activ­i­ty.

Although there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to these con­cepts, the dis­tinc­tions are instruc­tive and reflect a syn­the­sis of per­spec­tives.  Pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion is intend­ed to be a descrip­tive term which sub­sumes these as well as enhance­ment or cos­met­ic approach­es, which may involve phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal or direct mod­u­la­tion of neur­al sys­tems with mag­net­ic, elec­tri­cal, or opti­cal ener­gy. The essence of pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion is the intent to influ­ence lifes­pan cog­ni­tion toward the opti­mal, or even to extend the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties defined by biol­o­gy.

Now, what­ev­er your stage of life and whichev­er approach to pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion is most rel­e­vant to your goals, be sure to ask your­self some tough ques­tions.  If you come up with good answers, please don’t hes­i­tate to leave your com­ments below.  Of course, if you would like to share your cri­tique of my ideas or of pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion with oth­er Sharp­Brains read­ers, I cer­tain­ly won’t mind.

—-   Edu­cat­ed and trained at Har­vard, Yale, Colum­bia, and in the heart of Brook­lyn, Dr. Steinerman’s ambi­tion is to con­tribute to the pre­ven­tion of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, one of the great chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tu­ry.  He is Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Neu­rol­o­gy at the Albert Ein­stein Col­lege of Med­i­cine and Mon­te­fiore Med­ical Cen­ter in New York City, where he found­ed the Cen­ter for Healthy Brain Aging.  He is also the found­ing sci­en­tist of ProG­evi­ty Neu­ro­science.

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3 Responses

  1. bruce anderson says:

    Okay, so the tough ques­tions are…are…are. The good doc­tor assumes a phys­i­o­log­i­cal brain which I’m sure most SB read­ers and per­form­ers go along with, even me. But one has to rec­og­nize that mod­u­lat­ing the activ­i­ty of indi­vid­ual aging brains is not an easy task and actu­al­ly seems to be very depen­dent upon many envi­ron­men­tal and cul­tur­al fac­tors. A very rel­e­vant par­al­lel nar­ra­tive is the now-old hat fit­ness boom: the major­i­ty of par­tic­i­pants are self-select­ed. Now that could mean they were nur­tured to achieve­ment, or a phys­i­o­log­i­cal basis exists that ‘dri­ves’ them to con­tin­ue to per­form. For sure they get sat­is­fac­tion from brain engage­ment. Nev­er­the­less, Amer­i­can cul­ture is gen­er­al­ly-speak­ing in no mood to pur­sue ‘frou-frou’ brain games for seniors. As a whole we are going to go the phar­ma route, whether called for, or not. My nog­gin’ glitch­es all the time and I’m dis­tressed by this; nev­er­the­less, unless the cul­ture makes a sea-change in atti­tudes to for­mal brain engage­ment (e.g., allow­ing seniors to return to school, gratis so they remain engaged men­tal­ly) then there will only be pock­ets of healthy aging pop­u­la­tions. I sense that the nuns of the famous nun stud­ies are tru­ly out­liers: a cul­ture sup­port­ed their engage­ments and pro­vid­ed them out­lets for fur­ther brain devel­op­ment. Obvi­ous­ly, on a per­son­al lev­el I’m stressed by my need to cob­ble togeth­er inex­pen­sive meth­ods to fur­ther my think­ing skills and thus my gloomy out­look on what Amer­i­can soci­ety sets as pri­or­i­ties: a AD web-site, very intel­li­gent, keeps hop­ing for THE pill with­out con­sid­er­a­tion for the col­lat­er­al dam­ages wrought by such-near­sight­ed­ness. Phew!

  2. Marjorie says:

    Pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion” sounds desire­able , par­tic­u­lar­ly if achieved through use of stim­u­la­tion and enrich­ment; how­ev­er, how is lev­el of cog­ni­tion measured/defined? Is it more than recall? Is the capac­i­ty to focus related–if I can hang on to one con­cept while try­ing to recall some­thing relat­ed to that con­cept, is that pos­i­tive cog­ni­tion?

    I con­stant­ly bemoan my declin­ing recall and have devel­oped one response that works for me some of the time: if I wish to recall a name or a word, I focus my men­tal ener­gies and order my cog­ni­tive cen­ter to recall it. Next, I move on to what I was doing. With­in eight or ten min­utes, the name or word comes to my con­scious lev­el, and I feel the relief of hav­ing recov­ered some­thing I felt I owned if an ear­li­er peri­od. I dread the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing none of what I owned in an ear­li­er peri­od.

  3. I agree with the need for a lex­i­con and find the spe­cif­ic con­cept names to be clear and help­ful. We need to be able to dis­tin­guish between Stim­u­la­tion and Enrich­ment, Reha­bil­i­ta­tion and Train­ing (I assume there can be an over­lap here), as well as between cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es and games.

    Pos­i­tive Cog­ni­tion” is not as eas­i­ly under­stood. For me, it brings to mind Cog­ni­tive Behav­ioral Ther­a­py tech­niques. I have been using the expres­sion, “Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness” to get peo­ple think­ing of enhanc­ing and main­tain­ing func­tion in the same way that they are used to think­ing about Phys­i­cal Fit­ness. I have a dream of start­ing a “Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness Cen­ter” based on a well­ness mod­el where peo­ple of all ages could come for Cog­ni­tive Enrich­ment, Exer­cis­es, Train­ing and Edu­ca­tion.

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