Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Using Your Head: What is the Future of Brain Health? (Interview Part 1)

Much of health­care deliv­ery has tra­di­tion­al­ly been set-up to deal with a ‘brain­less body’; yet we con­sis­tent­ly com­plain that we can­not change patient and con­sumer behav­iours and main­tain adher­ence to treat­ment pro­grammes. Health­care sys­tems are now recog­nis­ing the lim­its of this mod­el and that there are major ben­e­fits to bet­ter com­pre­hend­ing and engag­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion: to bet­ter under­stand how we oper­ate, why and how we make deci­sions, improve cog­ni­tion so that peo­ple can bet­ter self-reg­u­late, self-man­age and take con­trol, and final­ly that we need to do more to pro­tect and main­tain cog­ni­tion in an increas­ing­ly age­ing pop­u­la­tion.

It was whilst explor­ing such trends in Alzheimer’s Dis­ease that we first engaged the Sharp­Brains organ­i­sa­tion and its founder, Alvaro Fer­nan­dez. Sharp­Brains is an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm and think tank, in the emerg­ing field of brain fit­ness and applied neu­ro­science. My recent dis­cus­sions with him, sum­ma­rized in a 2-part inter­view, have focused on the soci­etal and med­ical shift of brain health into main­stream health­care. What we are observ­ing is an evo­lu­tion where cog­ni­tive health moves to a life­long focus as part of holis­tic health and well­be­ing. So what is dri­ving this change and what might this mean for us all?

Region­al dif­fer­ences
Inter­est­ing­ly, the dri­vers of change dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly region­al­ly. In the US for exam­ple, change is being dri­ven by con­sumer aware­ness and demand; many are pay­ing more atten­tion to and adopt­ing lifestyles to try to delay demen­tia or cog­ni­tive decline. In addi­tion, they are apply­ing their con­sumer rights to choose the physi­cians they feel are more knowl­edge­able and focused on cog­ni­tion. In Europe how­ev­er, pol­i­cy is more often dri­ving change as health sys­tems search for the best strate­gies to man­age a grow­ing elder­ly pop­u­la­tion. These dif­fer­ences sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact how inno­va­tions come about and devel­op over time.

Win­ston Churchill once said that the Unit­ed States does every­thing right after they have tried every­thing, and that entre­pre­neur­ial mind­set appears to be in evi­dent in brain health. The US has a vibrant mar­ket place, full of inno­va­tion. Ini­tial­ly this was fair­ly unreg­u­lat­ed but over time it has becomes more robust and sus­tain­able, with larg­er organ­i­sa­tions becom­ing involved adding to the cred­i­bil­i­ty of the indus­try. Europe, on the oth­er hand, has been more con­ser­v­a­tive in nature, fol­low­ing inno­va­tion else­where. But these two approach­es are com­ple­men­tary; although it will be a ‘messier’ jour­ney in the US, it is like­ly that we will see wider spec­trum of ideas, tech­nolo­gies and inno­va­tion being devel­oped. Then, in time, Europe will find sys­tem­at­ic ways to adopt and roll-out these tech­nolo­gies.

Accord­ing to Alvaro we are see­ing region­al dif­fer­ences in the uptake of brain health solu­tions:

  • North Amer­i­ca, again led by con­sumer demand, is tak­ing a more seri­ous approach. Brain fit­ness is viewed as a holis­tic con­cept, where main­stream lifestyle and tech­nol­o­gy inter­ven­tions are used to improve brain health; in much the same way as phys­i­cal fit­ness is viewed.
  • In Europe, where Nin­ten­do Brain Train­ing games have been huge­ly suc­cess­ful, to this point con­sumers per­ceive brain train­ing as lit­tle more than an excuse for video gam­ing.
  • Asia has had more inter­est from an edu­ca­tion­al per­spec­tive: how they can bet­ter arm chil­dren for the world of the future, enhanc­ing atten­tion, self-reg­u­la­tion, focus and cog­ni­tive per­for­mance.

Brain health becom­ing main­stream
It is like­ly that these dif­fer­ent region­al per­spec­tives will con­verge over time as brain health becomes a more main­stream con­cept. What is already appar­ent across mar­kets is that in the cur­rent finan­cial cli­mate, new brain health inno­va­tions need to prove them­selves to be cost effec­tive (and prob­a­bly low cost). There have obvi­ous­ly been huge ben­e­fits from com­plex inno­va­tions such as MRI, but these are expen­sive tech­nolo­gies. New cog­ni­tive inno­va­tions tend to be light-touch, non-inva­sive, inex­pen­sive and often har­ness web tech­nolo­gies, which is a very dif­fer­ent eco­nom­ic mod­el to the tra­di­tion­al bio-med­ical approach.

What we are also see­ing, across regions, is an indus­try dri­ven by sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy pio­neers where dif­fer­ent approach­es are tried, where a broad­en­ing evi­dence base is being built, and where large organ­i­sa­tions are increas­ing­ly lend­ing their weight to new research and devel­op­ment.

For exam­ple, the dri­vers’ asso­ci­a­tion in the US, the AAA Foun­da­tion, now offers free or dis­count­ed com­put­erised cog­ni­tive train­ing to its 30 mil­lion mem­bers. The prod­uct, which com­pris­es 10–15 hours of train­ing, is specif­i­cal­ly linked to the ele­ments of cog­ni­tion asso­ci­at­ed with safe dri­ving such as ‘use­ful field of view’, which is a pre­dic­tor of acci­dents and tends to decline for peo­ple in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Tri­als in sev­er­al states have shown ben­e­fits in terms of acci­dent rates – reduc­ing poten­tial dam­age, injuries and costs for both its mem­bers and its insur­ance arm.

This is obvi­ous­ly not a stan­dard health­care prob­lem, but it does demon­strate the types of cost effi­cien­cies which can be realised. If you extrap­o­late this into areas where direct resource util­i­sa­tion and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty will affect health­care and work­ing life, you can begin to see the impact this could have.

–> Part 2 of this inter­view is now avail­able HERE.

David Coleiro is a found­ing part­ner at, and this inter­view is an extract from the book Strate­gic Tales by Strate­gic North. To request your free copy please email them at

For more infor­ma­tion on Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Sharp­Brains work you can read the recent TED­Week­ends arti­cle Retool­ing Brain Care with Low-cost, Data-dri­ven Tech­nolo­gies.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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