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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