Yesterday I had the chance to chat with Yaakov Stern, leading Cognitive Reserve researcher at Columbia University, and then with a group of 25 lifelong learners in Arizona who attended a brain fitness class (hello, Robert and friends!) based on our consumer guide The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. On reflection, I found both conversations to be very stimulating for the same reason: they were forward-looking, focused not so much on status quo but on how emerging research, technology and trends may impact our society and lives in years to come. Let’s continue the conversation. Let me share the 10 main trends that we analyzed/ forecasted in our book, and then ask you, sharp readers, to add your own 2 cents to the discussion.
1. We predict an increased emphasis on brain maintenance in locations ranging from retirement communities to gyms. As a computer-savvy baby boomer population looks for ways to stay mentally fit, brain fitness, or brain training, is becoming part of their vocabulary and concern.
2. Physical and mental exercise will be better integrated. Physical exercise has been shown to increase the rate of neurogenesis, whereas mental exercise helps ensure the survival of any newly created neurons. Today both activities usually take place in very different settings: the former, in health clubs, the later, in universities. We predict that the borders between them will become more diffuse. Expect new programs such as brain fitness podcasts that allow us to train working memory as we jog or exercise bikes with built-in brain games.
3. Watch for a broad government initiative, similar to the one JFK led, to increase the public awareness of the need for brain fitness. It is becoming more widely understood by the medical and policy community that a combination of physical exercise, nutrition, mental exercise and stress management can help us maintain our brain health as we age. As politicians and policy makers look for ways to delay the onset of Alzheimer-related symptoms of our aging population, new initiatives may be launched.
4. Better and more widely available assessments of cognitive function will serve as objective baselines to measure the impact of cognitive training interventions. There will also likely be better diagnostic tests to identify early Alzheimer’s symptoms, for example. Reliable diagnostic assessments of cognitive abilities will help move this field forward just as jumping on a scale tells you if your physical fitness and diet program is working.
5. Improved computer-based tools will come to market. The growing pipeline of research studies will enable the market leaders and new entrants to refine existing tools and devise new ones. More clinical studies will show the benefits of brain fitness programs to address specific clinical conditions and learning disabilities.
6. Low tech options will play an increasing role in the brain fitness field. Already, increasing research is showing the cognitive value and brain plasticity impact of interventions such as meditation and cognitive therapy. More research and wider applications will help refine our understanding of when and how they can be most helpful.
7. Doctors and pharmacists will help patients navigate through the overwhelming range of available products and interpret the results of cognitive assessments. This will require significant professional development efforts, given that most doctors today were trained under a very different understanding of the brain than the one we have today.
8. Insurance companies will introduce incentives for members to encourage healthy aging. Many insurance plans today include rewards for members who, for example, voluntarily take health-related questionnaires that enable them to identify steps to take to improve health. Increasingly, brain-related lifestyle factors will become part of these incentivized interventions.
9. Investments in new cognitive interventions for the U.S. military will be commercialized. As the military increasingly funds research to improve the diagnostic and treatment of problems such as PTSD and TBI, the resulting products will ultimately find commercial uses.
10. Brain training will be added to corporate wellness and leadership initiatives. Large employers with existing corporate wellness and leadership programs will introduce brain fitness specific programs aimed not only at improved health outcomes but also at increased productivity and cognitive performance in the workplace..
Which prediction sounds more surprising? which one would you add? how could we refine them?
- In-depth interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern
- Book (for everyone): The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness
- Market report (for decision-makers in the field): Transforming Brain Health — The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2010