Who could answer these questions better than the expert SharpBrains 2011 Summit speakers? Discover below the answers of 7 of them.
.1. How would you define “brain fitness” vs. “physical fitness”?
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Harvard Medical School: Physical fitness can refer to an overall or general state of health and well-being. However, it is also often used more specifically to refer to the ability to perform a given activity, occupation, or sport. Similarly brain fitness might be used to refer to a general state of healthy, optimized brain function, or a more specific brain-based ability to process certain, specific information, enable certain motor actions, or support certain cognitive abilities. Importantly though, I would argue that physical fitness REQUIRES brain fitness, while brain fitness benefits from, but does not require physical fitness.
Kenneth Kosik, UC Santa Barbara: The brain is simply an organ in the body with all the health requirements of any other organ. Therefore, I am troubled by the “versus” in your question. Why set up an unnecessary dualism? I can see the point of talking about two historical movements, but would rather discuss how they complement each other.
Beverly Sanborn, Belmont Senior Living: Brain fitness and physical fitness are interlinked. Each enhances the other and both are essential components of successful aging. As we age, the ability to cope with inexorable challenge to social-emotional-economic well-being is rooted in having a high level of mental alertness and a physical body that functions efficiently. But fitness is not just a happy consequence of a hardy gene pool. Fitness for both brain and brawn requires a committed effort, a lot of stretch and sweat, and the constant push to reach beyond the comfort zone.
Ken Gibson, LearningRx: If physical fitness is the “ability to function efficiently and effectively without injury, to enjoy leisure, to be healthy, to resist disease, and to cope with emergency situations” then brain fitness is the ability to mentally function efficiently and effectively at work, play, or leisure, to be sharp, to resist mental disease, and to cope with mentally demanding situations. Components of brain fitness include cognitive skills needed for fast, easy, and better learning or work performance such as: attention, working and short term memory, processing speed, logic and reasoning, and auditory and visual processing. The relative importance of each of the components varies for each task a person performs.
Katherine Sullivan, Walter Reed Army Medical Center: In our context (helping active duty service members and veterans recover from cognitive dysfunction most associated with traumatic brain injury), I’d say brain fitness is the outcome we work towards: the cognitive resources required to return to duty or reintegrate into daily and professional lives as much as possible. In this sense, it’s related to the physical health of the brain but has mental elements as well. As far as the relationship between the two, I’m in an unusual position, having the honor to work with some of the most physically fit men and women in our country, who also have the self-discipline to dedicate themselves towards overcoming longer-term challenges.
Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: I would say that brain fitness is a subset of physical fitness, and also, that brain fitness is quite analogous to the traditional definition of physical health. Use it or lose it applies to both.
Nathanael Eisenberg, CogniFit: To the extent that body fitness or physical fitness can be maintained or improved by physical exercise of motor muscles, similarly, the term brain fitness, as it is used today, mirrors that cerebral health (cognitive, emotional, biological) might be maintained or improved by exercise of different kinds, both physical AND cognitive.
Lisa Schoonerman, vibrantBrains: Brain fitness is like physical fitness in that it is targeting a part of one’s body with the aim of improving and maintaining a desired level of function. Brain fitness is a bit more elusive than physical fitness in that it cannot be assessed visually, however as scientific ways of assessing cognitive functions improves, and as more data is gathered for people who have maintained brain-healthy lifestyles vis a vis rates of dementia or ability to live independently, the many benefits of brain fitness will be more and more clear.
2. Where do you see a significant opportunity for brain fitness innovation to improve the lives of a large number of people in the next decade?
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Harvard Medical School: A) Education; B) Access to support; C) Individually-tailored programs that can be truly deployed as therapies and can be appropriately monitored in their efficacy.
Kenneth Kosik, UC Santa Barbara: These programs could reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Rigorous studies are needed to validate this hypothesis.
Beverly Sanborn, Belmont Senior Living: As research defines with greater specificity the most effective protocol for maintaining brain fitness (and thus delaying the onset of dementia), the most significant opportunity for innovation lies in how to communicate this knowledge to the largest number of people, particularly to resource-poor, rural areas worldwide. Computer technology and the media will be the locus of innovation.
Ken Gibson, LearningRx: Because brain fitness doesn’t require the space and equipment of physical fitness it can become parts of many venues (insurance programs, total fitness centers – brain and physical, school and job training programs, etc). We believe a major shift will be made in cognitive rehab – from accommodating cognitive weakness to training skills.
Katherine Sullivan, Walter Reed Army Medical Center: To help us reach many more people who need cognitive rehab, by automating aspects both of the assessments and therapies we offer. We have seen that computerized programs can greatly complement our in-center work, delivering a true continuum of care in a cost-efficient manner — we can, for example, assign and monitor “training homework” in a way we couldn’t before. Computer-training can help provide the intense dosage required for real change while the therapist can focus on compensatory strategies, coping mechanisms, and the translation of therapeutic goals to real-world outcomes.
Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Extending the safe driving experience for millions of older drivers across the globe.
Nathanael Eisenberg, CogniFit: The aging population, mental health needs and changing socio-economic realities will demand significant innovation and applications in the next decade to improve lifelong quality of life and productivity. It will be key to to make cognitive training enjoyable and fun while improving consumers’ cognitive reserve in targeted ways.
Lisa Schoonerman, vibrantBrains: Opportunities exist across the board but I think the most significant lie at either end of the life cycle. As we age, brain fitness can improve the lives of seniors by potentially delaying dementia symptoms, and helping people living successful, independent lives for longer. This will result in happier people and families as well as significant savings in healthcare costs. On the other side of the spectrum, opportunities for children to overcome learning disabilities, and opportunities for educators to teach more effectively can offer tremendous opportunities for the future.
3. What is the one big challenge to the innovation?
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Harvard Medical School: The establishment of a reliable screening test to assess individual brain health that might be used to optimize interventions and assess their efficacy.
Kenneth Kosik, UC Santa Barbara: The challenge is laying the research groundwork that will put brain fitness on a firm scientific basis.
Beverly Sanborn, Belmont Senior Living: Research money needs to evaluate technological, media, and training protocol in the context of effective, low-cost, practical programs for home use. This research should address best practices that translate research findings into brain and body fitness programs.
Ken Gibson, LearningRx: Whereas physical fitness can result in seen physical changes or functions (weight loss, larger muscles, run longer, more energy, etc) brain fitness results in harder to define results – that connection will have to be made convincingly.
Katherine Sullivan, Walter Reed Army Medical Center: I see two main challenges facing brain-fitness programs in the rehabilitation world: Clinical acceptance leading to insurance coverage for its use in therapy, and the overall ability of cognitive rehab specialist to embrace computer programs. It is important that brain-fitness innovation be viewed as an adjunct and compliment to the services therapists provide, and not as a replacement of the individual therapist.
Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety: Promoting and marketing the brain training tools, recognizing it will be competing with an enormous amount of information bombarding all individuals.
Nathanael Eisenberg, CogniFit: Changing consumers’ habits towards brain health, to make them more proactive and personally relevant.
Lisa Schoonerman, vibrantBrains: Time: time for people to incorporate brain fitness into their lives, time for researchers to study and publish the positive effects, time for our healthcare systems to adopt and fund such activities, and time for people to realize that how they think is as important as how they look.
4. What are your main activities in the field and where can people learn more?
- Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation at Harvard Medical School.
Conducting research, clinical programs, developing educational programs. Our main website is: Berenson-Allen Center for Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation.
- Kenneth Kosik, co-Director of UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute, Founder Cognitive Fitness and Innovative Therapies (CFIT).
I’d suggest checking out my recent book The Alzheimer’s Solution: How Today’s Care is Failing Millions and How We Can Do Better, and the website for CFIT.
- Beverly Sanborn, Vice President of Program Development at Belmont Senior Living.
Belmont Village provides independent living, assisted living and dementia care in 19 settings throughout California, Chicago, and the southern United States. We have developed a range of programs that translate research into brain fitness opportunities for residents at all levels of ability: from no discernable memory loss to late stage dementia. Ours is a therapeutic, integrated, Just Right Challenge approach that encompasses a mix of cognitive, creative and physical activities offered daily in structured social groups. We are in the process of pilot-testing an evaluation of these programs, with plans to engage in a full-scale evaluation using an experimental design. Please visit belmontvillage.com for more information. We encourage you to visit often, as our site will be expanding during the year.
- Ken Gibson, President of LearningRx.
We’re growing a network of physical locations (currently there are 71 LearningRx Brain Training Centers, mostly helping kids with learning difficulties), expanding online activities, and looking for independent research validation of our mostly internal trials (we have over 15,000 student records with over 20 pre/post training test results – WJ3 Cog & Ach – and over 100 Hx Dx data field – all available to researchers). Our main website is: LearningRx.
- Katherine Sullivan, Director of the Brain Fitness Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
I am currently working for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury; for more information, they have this excellent website. We have created a Brain Fitness Center (BFC) inside the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed, as an adjunct to existing cognitive treatment services in speech pathology and occupational therapy. You can learn more about the BFC here and here.
- Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
- Nathanael Eisenberg, CEO of CogniFit.
We have initiatives and business relationships with a diverse group of partners ranging from direct to consumers offering to health provider, physicians, mental health association, driving schools and insurance companies. People can learn more at: CogniFit. Also, SharpBrains.com just published a nice article on a recent study based on one of our products to see whether Cognitive Training Can Improve Physical Fitness.
- Lisa Schoonerman, co-Founder of vibrantBrains
vibraintBrains’ main activity is to mainstream the concept and practice of brain fitness; unfortunately many questions of best implementation methods remain and our next steps are to regroup and try to find financially viable answers. More information can be found at www.vibrantBrains.com.