Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Why, to improve memory, we need to think of the brain as a system

(Edi­tor’s Note: every month we host an online Q&A with par­tic­i­pants in the e‑course How To Be Your Own Brain Fit­ness Coach. This is the light­ly edit­ed and anonymized tran­script from the Jan­u­ary Q&A ses­sion; the Feb­ru­ary Q&A will take place on Tues­day, Feb­ru­ary 12th)

2:02
OK, ready to go! Hap­py 2013 again. You can start writ­ing your ques­tions and com­ments in the box at the bot­tom, and hit Send.

2:04
Ques­tion 
Which activ­i­ties or games or web­sites do you rec­om­mend to improve mem­o­ry?

2:05

Fac­ul­ty Answer
Well, that is an impos­si­ble ques­tion to answer prop­er­ly with­out talk­ing specifics…have you watched the record­ed lec­tures already?

2:06
I say that for 2 rea­sons: 1) to improve mem­o­ry, one also has to con­sid­er oth­er brain func­tions such as atten­tion and man­ag­ing stress; 2) and take into account a vari­ety of lifestyle options before jump­ing to “web­sites”

2:07
We dis­cuss these top­ics in depth in the first 2 ses­sions. In ses­sion 3 we sur­vey a range of tools/ websites/ resources…

2:08
Can you be a bit more spe­cif­ic about what you are look­ing for?

2:08
Ques­tion 
Not all of them. I’m right at the begin­ning and I real­ize you have many resources to offer. Yes, your rec­om­men­da­tions are great and yes I like your sug­ges­tion to look at oth­er ways to improve mem­o­ry before jump­ing into web­sites.

2:10

Fac­ul­ty Answer

Under­stood. Think of the brain as a sys­tem. As a car. More com­plex that just “mem­o­ry.” The first lec­tures explains the basics of the sys­tem, so you know how dif­fer­ent fac­tors play a role. Lat­er we review dif­fer­ent tools and how to per­son­al­ize them.

2:10
Ques­tion 
How to improve atten­tion might be a good place to start?

2:12
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Yes. But you’ll notice we also talk a lot about stress and emo­tions, because often they are a bot­tle­neck for atten­tion and for mem­o­ry. And there are oth­er exec­u­tive func­tions to con­sid­er and enhance.

2:12
Ques­tion 
Is there any new research, ideas or activ­i­ties that you have recent­ly dis­cov­ered that are not in your pro­gram?

2:13
Fac­ul­ty Answer

We track every­thing new so the answer is yes. But noth­ing that would sub­stan­tial­ly change the course as it is now.

2:14
I see 9 oth­er peo­ple are in this Q&A, so please add your com­ments and ques­tions by writ­ing them in the bot­tom box and click­ing on Send.

2:14
Ques­tion 
Thank you.

2:15
Fac­ul­ty Answer

You’re wel­come. I think watch­ing the first 2 ses­sions will give you a much bet­ter sense on how to approach the ques­tion “how to improve mem­o­ry”

2:16
Ques­tion 
Yes, will do. Lots to absorb and I look for­ward to it.

2:17
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Hap­py to answer any spe­cif­ic question/ doubt you have now. For general/ open ques­tions, I think the course ses­sions are a much bet­ter place to start.

2:17
Ques­tion 
Do you think it’s pos­si­ble to pre­vent Alzheimer’s?

2:20
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Great ques­tion. It is clear now that 1) you can’t pre­vent AD pathol­o­gy (plaques and tan­gles in the brain), BUT 2) you can delay the onset of AD symp­toms by a num­ber of years. Which is the real out­come we all want, because doing so is what com­press­es the poten­tial mor­bid­i­ty at the end of our lives, mak­ing a huge dif­fer­ence for indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies. This is why we talk so much about cog­ni­tive reserve in the course — the reserve that helps us with­stand the effects of the pathol­o­gy.

2:20
Ques­tion 
Is there any spe­cif­ic rec­om­men­da­tions to improve deci­sion mak­ing? and also rec­om­men­da­tions to elim­i­nate con­fu­sion that comes from envi­ron­men­tal stim­uli?

2:23
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Great ques­tions — they are relat­ed. Yes, there re rec­om­men­da­tions and tools to improve infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing (your sec­ond ques­tion) and deci­sion-mak­ing. In the course we talk about how work­ing mem­o­ry (WM) and stress/ emo­tions impact deci­sion-mak­ing, so any­thing that enhances WM and stress reg­u­la­tion tends to ben­e­fit deci­sion-mak­ing

2:24
In ses­sions 2 and 3 we dis­cuss those options in depth. Do you have any spe­cif­ic ques­tion or doubt?

2:27
Going back to the car anal­o­gy — there is no one “mag­ic pill” to maintain/ opti­mize car func­tion­ing, but a vari­ety of guide­lines to fol­low. Same with our brain functioning/ deci­sion-mak­ing/ info pro­cess­ing — we bet­ter incor­po­rate both the gen­er­al “pil­lars” dis­cussed in ses­sion 2 and the more tar­get­ed tools sur­veyed in lec­ture 3. How to pri­or­i­tize? Each of us has dif­fer­ent start­ing points and objec­tives, so in lec­ture 4 we dis­cuss how to per­son­al­ize, how to pri­or­i­tize what may be the “low hang­ing fruit”

2:27
Ques­tion 
I’m recov­er­ing from an infec­tious ill­ness that, I’m sure, has par­tial­ly messed up my brain’s (& body’s) func­tion (“chron­ic fatigue syn­drome”, for the last 4 years). Once I get it killed off, beyond the foun­da­tion­al truths of excel­lent sleep hygiene, mod­er­ate and reg­u­lar aer­o­bic exer­cise, brain-and-body healthy foods, man­ag­ing stress and good social inter­ac­tions, what else can I do to best reha­bil­i­tate it and “get it back into fight­ing shape”? PositScience.com cours­es, etc.? I’m inter­est­ed in any sug­ges­tions you might have. 🙂

2:32
Fac­ul­ty Answer

This course is not designed to offer clinical/ rehab advice, I’d sug­gest your doc­tor (or even bet­ter, a neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist if you have access to one) is the best per­son to iden­ti­fy and mon­i­tor poten­tial cog­ni­tive deficits and how to best address them. Yes, cog­ni­tive train­ing would make a lot of sense as part of the whole mix, but what par­tic­u­lar domain/ pro­gram is not clear — no pro­gram cov­ers every­thing.

Hav­ing said that, the gen­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions dis­cussed in the course would essen­tial­ly help you accel­er­ate recov­ery. But I insist, you need a doc­tor or neu­ropy­sh (or per­haps OT) to bet­ter tar­get options and even to mon­i­tor side-effects of med­ica­tions.

2:32
Ques­tion 
I see you sug­gest some tools such as web­sites, biofeed­back and books. I have used some of these tools; how­ev­er I am a lit­tle con­fused with which would be the best way to start or what tool so I do not get over­whelmed with to many things at the same time

2:34
Fac­ul­ty Answer

That is a very com­mon prob­lem, giv­en all the noise out there. I sug­gest you first watch the four lec­tures in the course — then it will become clear where to start. What lec­tures have you watched so far?

2:34
Ques­tion 
Sep­a­rate ques­tion: what are some of the most inter­est­ing things you’ve learned recent­ly relat­ed to our top­ic that you think would be fun and inter­est­ing for us to know? 🙂

2:35
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Only yes­ter­day I was talk­ing to a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard and dis­cussing how poor­ly brain sci­ence is being trans­lat­ed into edu­ca­tion and health pro­grams and prac­tices. So, the fun part is that we have a lot of stim­u­lat­ing work ahead 🙂

2:37
Anoth­er inter­est­ing thread of research is the impor­tance of bilin­gual edu­ca­tion — speak­ing sev­er­al lan­guages for decades helps devel­op and main­tain deci­sion-mak­ing and exec­u­tive func­tions over time, giv­en the addi­tion­al men­tal work­out involved in select­ing the right words in the right lan­guage.

There are many oth­er inter­est­ing areas!

2:37
Ques­tion 
I have watched up to ses­sion III part 1

2:39
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Super — so what comes next in ses­sion III and IV is pre­cise­ly how to select the pieces of the jig­saw puz­zle that may most sense for you.

2:39
Ques­tion 
John Ratey (MD) & John Med­i­na would agree with you! 🙂

2:40
Fac­ul­ty Answer

I think we’d agree on 90% on things and dis­agree on 10%…btw, their books are excel­lent too.

2:40
Ques­tion 
I read that danc­ing is also a great brain exer­cis­er, learn­ing new steps, body rhythm and music com­bined.

2:41
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Yes. Danc­ing (espe­cial­ly cou­ple danc­ing, where you have to learn and prac­tice com­plex steps) is a great way to com­bine the phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise pil­lars we dis­cuss. Now, it is impor­tant to under­stand those pil­lars, and why/ how they are com­ple­men­tary, so we can incor­po­rate them in ways mean­ing­ful to us. Danc­ing may be it, or not.

2:42
Ques­tion 
Besides Sharp­Brains, what are some of your favorite sources of infor­ma­tion that might be help us to be self-empow­ered stu­dents of neu­ro­science? I became very inter­est­ed in the sub­ject about 5 years ago — it’s fas­ci­nat­ing.

2:43
Fac­ul­ty Answer

I’d say going straight to the pub­lished sci­ence. Any time you see an inter­est­ing news arti­cle, try to locate the sci­en­tif­ic study and actu­al­ly read it — these days many stud­ies are free via open jour­nals or via researchers’ web­sites.

2:44
And many stud­ies cov­er spe­cif­ic technologies/ prod­ucts, so you could read the sci­ence and exper­i­ment with the tech/ prod­uct at the same time.

2:45
Now, I’d sug­gest fol­low­ing the frame­work in the jig­saw puz­zle to exper­i­ment in a rel­e­vant way…

2:47
Many sci­en­tists have also pub­lished good pop­u­lar sci­ence books — it depends on what your spe­cif­ic inter­est is. Per­haps you can invest in a Kin­dle or sim­i­lar e‑reader to access many books at good rates, or become a reg­u­lar patron at your library

2:47
We have 10 min­utes left. Any oth­er question/ comment/ doubt?

2:51
Ques­tion 
Do you know of any espe­cial­ly good online forums or blogs relat­ing to neu­ro­science? I’d like to know where to go to plug into a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple who love this stuff, but who are knowl­edge­able and stick to the sci­ence, such as it is.

2:53
Fac­ul­ty Answer

There are many great sci­ence blogs, a num­ber of which cov­er brain top­ics. But they have migrat­ed so many times, from sci­ence­blogs to nature to the guardian and others…that, to tell you the truth, I could­n’t sug­gest one spe­cif­ic place to start. We used to run a “blog car­ni­val” called Encephalon with many great blog­gers. That reminds me: a good blog is Mind Hacks

2:53
Ques­tion 
I have fol­lowed a healthy lifestyle; exer­cis­ing, learn­ing a new lan­guage, eat­ing healthy and going to col­lege, etc. How­ev­er, I notice that me Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are still very poor. I have trou­ble with exec­u­tive func­tion­ing, mem­o­ry, atten­tion, etc. Is it [pos­si­ble that they can only improve with cog­ni­tive train­ing tools?

2:56
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Yes, that is pos­si­ble, but oth­er things may be going on — many med­ical con­di­tions (and medica­ments too) have neg­a­tive cog­ni­tive side effects. So you should reflect on when you start­ed feel­ing that way and con­tact your med­ical provider to see if some­thing else ay be going on

2:56
Time for one last ques­tion!

2:58
Ques­tion 
Thank you for shar­ing your knowl­edge and Hap­py New Year!

2:58
Fac­ul­ty Answer

OK, bye every­one! Enjoy the lec­tures and activ­i­ties!

2:58
Ques­tion 
Thanks!

2:58
Ques­tion 
Not a ques­tion, but a com­ment: thank you so much for putting this course togeth­er and for what you are doing with Sharp­Brains. It’s a gen­uine force for good in the world, and I’m grate­ful. I wish you the best in your per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life! 🙂

2:59
Fac­ul­ty Answer

Thank you for the kind words 🙂

We try our best!

 

–> To learn more about the e‑course and reg­is­ter: click on  How To Be Your Own Brain Fit­ness Coach

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Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Course: Brain Fitness Coach, Education & Lifelong Learning

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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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