Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


SharpBrains Council Monthly Insights: How will we assess, enhance and repair cognition across the lifespan?

When you think of how the PC has altered the fab­ric of soci­ety, per­mit­ting instant access to infor­ma­tion and automat­ing process­es beyond our wildest dreams, it is instruc­tive to con­sid­er that much of this progress was dri­ven by Moore’s law. Halv­ing the size of semi­con­duc­tor every 18 months catal­ysed an expo­nen­tial accel­er­a­tion in per­for­mance.

Why is this sto­ry rel­e­vant to mod­ern neu­ro­science and the work­ings of the brain? Because trans­for­ma­tive tech­no­log­i­cal progress aris­es out of choice and the actions of indi­vid­u­als who see poten­tial for change, and we may well be on the verge of such progress.

Unlike oth­er sys­tems of the human body, the func­tion­ing of the brain is part-owned and co-opt­ed by a bewil­der­ing range of pro­fes­sion­als, thinkers and doers from neu­ro­sci­en­tists to philoso­phers, psy­chol­o­gists to edu­ca­tors, psy­chi­a­trists to neu­roanatomists, life coach­es to cor­po­rate train­ers. This frag­men­ta­tion of research and belief sys­tems hin­ders inno­va­tion, but pro­vides an untapped oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn from each oth­er, lever­ag­ing social media plat­forms and ubiq­ui­tous com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels that enable pro­fes­sion­als scat­tered far and wide to col­lab­o­rate and make con­nec­tions with pre­vi­ous­ly walled off part­ners, men­tors and peers, as evi­denced by the 2010 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit that gath­ered over 250 pro­fes­sion­als in 16 coun­tries, with­out a sin­gle one of them need­ing to board a plane.

Sig­nals abound that cog­ni­tive & affec­tive neu­ro­science and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy are com­ing of age, some­times in coun­ter­in­tu­itive ways. The UK gov­ern­ment pro­duced a mas­sive report iden­ti­fy­ing the need to build Men­tal Cap­i­tal across the lifes­pan. The Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences helped pri­or­i­tize brain-based appli­ca­tions for the selec­tion, train­ing and deploy­ment of armed ser­vices per­son­nel. Sports con­cus­sions and PTSD are final­ly get­ting the atten­tion they deserve. A Nation­al Insti­tute of Health evi­dence review iden­ti­fied cog­ni­tive train­ing as a clear­ly pro­tec­tive fac­tor against cog­ni­tive decline, ahead even of phys­i­cal exer­cise and gen­er­al cog­ni­tive engage­ment. Pear­son, a major pub­lish­er, acquired Cogmed, a Swedish start-up that pio­neered evi­dence-based work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing. 40 orga­ni­za­tions sub­mit­ted entries to the 2010 Brain Fit­ness Inno­va­tion Awards, which were sur­pris­ing­ly won by USA Hock­ey.

Why do all these land­marks mat­ter? Because they are sym­bol­ic of inno­v­a­tive minds bet­ting on their vision for the future and choos­ing to align their objec­tives with the shift­ing sands of demo­graph­ic and soci­etal change, emerg­ing neu­ro­science and tech­no­log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty.

At the same time, aggres­sive mar­ket­ing and super­fi­cial media report­ing can taint opti­mism and under­mine progress. Some prod­ucts promise to dou­ble brain­pow­er fol­low­ing 3 easy steps. Ear­li­er this year, the BBC and Nature col­lab­o­rat­ed on the “largest brain train­ing exper­i­ment”, but what the study pro­vid­ed in num­bers, it under­per­formed in method­ol­o­gy and inter­pre­ta­tion. The neg­a­tive find­ings in one sin­gle and poor data point were report­ed wide­ly as if to close the door on a class of tech­nol­o­gy. It was hard not to sense a dis­taste for the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of sci­ence at its core, rather than the appre­ci­a­tion of what could be achieved if seri­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion, invest­ment and pub­lic edu­ca­tion were under­tak­en.

This ten­sion is per­haps an ample demon­stra­tion of the immense poten­tial and Achilles’ heel of com­put­er-aid­ed, non-inva­sive, neu­ro­science appli­ca­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly those that claim to delay, pre­vent, treat or mod­i­fy a par­tic­u­lar con­di­tion, men­tal state, or behav­ior. The eco­nom­ics of wide­ly adopt­ed dig­i­tal tools are high­ly attrac­tive. Costs of dis­tri­b­u­tion tend to zero, set­up costs are rel­a­tive­ly low, reg­u­la­to­ry bur­den is cur­rent­ly light, and the prod­ucts and ser­vices become increas­ing­ly valu­able as end-users feed­back rich data into the under­ly­ing mod­el, enabling seri­ous ana­lyt­ics at the pop­u­la­tion and indi­vid­ual lev­el. The result is that bar­ri­ers to entry are low for new play­ers, thus lead­ing to a pro­fu­sion of new appli­ca­tions and prod­uct claims.

What does this mean for this new indus­try and the con­sumers they serve? Any nascent indus­try needs an infra­struc­ture build out that incor­po­rates stan­dards, qual­i­ty con­trol, and a reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work, but exces­sive up-front reg­u­la­tion may sti­fle inno­va­tion in a cat­e­go­ry that seems to pose no neg­a­tive side effects oth­er than in the pock­ets of mis­in­formed buy­ers. The right bal­ance remains to be seen.

In schools, sports clubs, HR depart­ments, seniors providers, health sys­tems, insur­ers, and retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties, pio­neers are scour­ing the lat­est research and inno­va­tions, attempt­ing to dis­en­tan­gle the sig­nal from the noise, devis­ing their own pro­grams and test­ing new ideas to bet­ter serve their par­tic­u­lar con­stituents. This ground up brain fit­ness rev­o­lu­tion is tes­ta­ment to the notion that no inter­ven­tion or tech­nol­o­gy meets a one size fits all approach, that the time for “mag­ic pills” to cure every­thing and for all is behind us, and that tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tions require tar­get­ed approach­es to brain fit­ness and cog­ni­tive health — hence the need for new tools to assess and mon­i­tor cognitive/ emo­tion­al func­tion­ing and brain fit­ness, not just to enhance it.

How can we shape the future of this crit­i­cal field? By over­com­ing iner­tia and sta­tus quo bias. By mak­ing informed deci­sions as con­sumers. By proac­tive­ly learn­ing what meets the needs of our communities/ clients/ partners/ patients/ employ­ees. By shar­ing via the Sharp­Brains Coun­cil for Brain Fit­ness Inno­va­tion what our orga­ni­za­tions are doing or want to do. In 837 words… by inno­vat­ing.

Ongoing SharpBrains Council Discussions

(Members-only links below. To Learn More and Join Council, click Here)

Now let’s take a look at the great things going on with the Sharp­Brains Coun­cil.

Coun­cil Mem­ber­ship
60 Coun­cil Mem­bers are already active in the Coun­cil mem­bers-only plat­form, bring­ing an excel­lent cross-sec­tor par­tic­i­pa­tion and fea­tur­ing inno­v­a­tive research, prod­ucts, ser­vices and prac­tices. The Mem­ber List avail­able in the Library sec­tion includes inter­ests and 2011 pri­or­i­ties, to facil­i­tate con­nec­tions. We are fea­tur­ing:

  • 7 most active Coun­cil Mem­bers: Philip Toman, Jamie Wil­son, Luc Beau­doin, Joshua Stein­er­man, Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, Adam Gaz­za­ley and Sher­rie All.
  • 7 Coun­cil Mem­bers doing great work out­side the US: Peter Rein­er, Veroni­ka Litin­s­ki and David Tal in Cana­da; Jen­ny Brock­is and Steve Zanon in Aus­tralia; Shlo­mo Breznitz and Lar­ry Shertz in Israel.



Research & Pol­i­cy

Com­ments of the month


To Learn More about the SharpBrains Council for Brain Fitness Innovation and Join Council: click Here

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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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