What is your current job title and organization, and what excites you the most about working there?
I’m the founder of the Chicago Center for Cognitive Wellness and consultant to Mather LifeWays. What excites me about working at both places is that it enables me to be a pioneer in helping people better understand and take care of their brains.
Please tell us about your interest in applied brain science. What areas are you most interested in? What motivated you to pursue work in your field?
As a neuropsychologist, what motivated me to pursue this work were all of the people who would come in for neuropsychological evaluations with long histories of hypertension, diabetes, and smoking who never thought for one second about the impact that this was having on their brains. I’m most interested in educating the public about cognitive reserve and how each of us can harness it to improve our brains both now and as we age, lowering the risk for dementia. A recent article in the journal Neurology estimated that the rate of dementia will triple in the next 40 years unless preventable measures are discovered, but so many preventable measures are already at our disposal. People need to know this!! There is a lot of talk about brain fitness in the media, but very little quality education — so I really appreciate the second edition of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. I hope to help people take charge!
What is one important thing you are working on now, and where can people learn more about it?
My center has started to offer a 6‑month coaching program that leads people through the process of identifying their risk for dementia and help them work to improve brain health. I am doing this both individually and in groups, with the groups meeting over the internet. Even when people know what to do to keep their brains healthy, they often can’t get started or stay motivated. These coaching experiences are aimed at helping people overcome these obstacles, developing and maintaining new habits for better brain health. People can learn more about it at cogwellness.com and by reading the fun New Yorker article that Alvaro Fernandez helped produce.
What are 1–2 key things you’d like every person to understand regarding his/ her own brain and mind, that you think is commonly misrepresented or not addressed in the popular media?
How your brain ages is profoundly impacted by how you live your life. At every age we make choices that affect the amount that we “invest” in our Brain’s 401K (the brain’s reserve account), influencing how much a disease or injury will affect our ability to function or think clearly. Also, how you treat your body affects how your brain ages. More mental stimulation may not be the first thing that a younger person needs in terms of improving focus and lowering the risk for dementia. Stress reduction, physical activity and weight loss may be higher priorities for them.
Where do you see clear “low-hanging fruit” to enhance behavioral and brain health based on neuroscience and innovation?
A one-stop shop for people to develop holistic, brain-healthy behaviors. A brain spa.
What would you like the 2013 SharpBrains Virtual Summit to accomplish?
Continue to inspire and help connect like-minded people with one another in a fun and time-efficient way to help advance the field of brain fitness and cognitive wellness.
Finally, what do YOU do to stay sharp?
I exercise, eat more veggies than I used to, avoid high fructose cor syrup and nitrates, learn all the time, get regular massages, meditate, connect with my support network, and soak up love from my kids daily –usually this involves either making meaningful eye contact or rubbing my cheek on their cheeks [they’re still sort of babies] until I feel a burst of oxytocin.
—This conversation is part of a new interview series with Speakers and Participants in the upcoming 2013 SharpBrains Virtual Summit (September 19–20th). You can register with a 20% discount using promotional code: sharp2020