Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Study: A personalized, multi-modal brain fitness program can help grow hippocampal volume and improve brain function


– Fig­ure 2. MRI scans showed an 8.6% growth in the vol­ume of the hip­pocam­pus (HC) in one patient. (A): Base­line Brain MRI. (B): Post-pro­gram Brain MRI. ©: High­er mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of base­line hip­pocam­pal vol­ume. (D): High­er mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of the post-pro­gram hip­pocam­pal vol­ume

Can the brain shrink­age that hap­pens to us with aging be reversed? Can we actu­al­ly grow back our brain and boost our mem­o­ry in our 60s and 70s?

The answers seem to be Yes and Yes–at least when talk­ing about some impor­tant brain struc­tures, like the hip­pocam­pus, that tend to decline as we grow old­er. A new study just pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tion of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease pro­vides evi­dence for the fact that advanced age does not inhib­it the capac­i­ty to increase the vol­ume of the hippocampus–the thumb-sized pair of brain struc­tures that are ground zero for mem­o­ry and learn­ing.

Togeth­er with my col­leagues at Johns Hop­kins, UCLA and the Neu­roGrow Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter, we enrolled 127 elder­ly patients who had a diag­no­sis of Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment in a 12-week-long mul­ti-modal brain fit­ness pro­gram. Patients first under­went a head-to-toe eval­u­a­tion to deter­mine the poten­tial caus­es for their cog­ni­tive decline; they were checked for every­thing from sleep apnea, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety to thy­roid dis­ease, vit­a­min defi­cien­cy, or med­ica­tion side-effects. They also under­went brain MRI, for­mal cog­ni­tive test­ing, and brain map­ping EEG. They then met with the researchers to review their results and find out how well their brains were func­tion­ing, as com­pared to oth­er peo­ple at their age. Once they learned the spe­cif­ic caus­es for the decline in their brain per­for­mance, they received three sets of inter­ven­tions for 5 hours a week over 12 weeks.

Their per­son­al­ized treat­ment pro­to­col includ­ed one-on-one train­ing for cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion, med­i­ta­tion train­ing, stress reduc­tion breath­ing tech­niques, coun­sel­ing for diet and exer­cise, and neu­ro­feed­back. With neurofeedback—or EEG biofeedback–patients can see their own brain waves on the com­put­er screen, and get reward­ed every time their brain pat­tern inch­es toward a state of being calm and focused.

Week after week, patients (and researchers) could track whether they felt more relaxed, hap­pi­er, sharp­er. At the end of 12 weeks, they repeat­ed their base­line tests.

Results showed that 84% of the 127 patients had gained sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in their mem­o­ry, atten­tion, focus, or oth­er aspects of brain func­tion.  MRI results revealed that 53% of patients had grown the vol­ume of their hip­pocam­pus to a lev­el of some­one who is 2 to 18 years younger, with­in just 12 weeks. Fur­ther­more, some patients had a repeat MRI one year lat­er and the expan­sion in their hip­pocam­pus size appeared to have either sus­tained, or improved fur­ther.

The aver­age atro­phy in the vol­ume of hip­pocam­pus is about 0.5% per year after age 50. In our study, the aver­age amount of expan­sion in the vol­ume of the hip­pocam­pus was 3% in 3 months, which is equiv­a­lent to about 6 years of aging. One of our patients, whose MRI is shown in Fig­ure 2 of our paper (see above), had an expan­sion of 8.6% (or 17 years of typ­i­cal aging), and this improve­ment in brain vol­ume par­al­leled her improve­ments in cog­ni­tive test results.

We cer­tain­ly need more and bet­ter con­trolled research before “brain fit­ness” becomes as main­stream as phys­i­cal fit­ness is today, but the bot­tom line today is this: We can choose lifestyles that accel­er­ate brain growth and vital­i­ty, or that pro­mote brain atro­phy and demen­tia. Each of us is mak­ing choic­es on a dai­ly basis.

As Hen­ry Ford said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”

StudyA Per­son­al­ized 12-week “Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram” for Improv­ing Cog­ni­tive Func­tion and Increas­ing the Vol­ume of Hip­pocam­pus in Elder­ly with Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment (The Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tion of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease)

  • Abstract: Reduc­ing cog­ni­tive decline in patients with Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment (MCI) may slow their pro­gres­sion to devel­op demen­tia. In this 12-week sin­gle-arm inter­ven­tion tri­al, elder­ly patients (n = 127, age 70.69 +/-10.53, 63% female) with a diag­no­sis of MCI were enrolled in a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram. The main out­come mea­sure was changes in a bat­tery of 10 cog­ni­tive domains. Each patient received week­ly per­son­al­ized cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion, neu­ro­feed­back train­ing, and brain coaching/counseling for eat­ing a Mediter­ranean diet, tak­ing omega‑3 sup­ple­ments, increas­ing fit­ness, and prac­tic­ing mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion. The post-pro­gram test­ing showed 84% of the patients expe­ri­enced sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in their cog­ni­tive func­tion (p< 0.05). Among the ran­dom sam­ple of 17 patients who had a post-pro­gram quan­ti­ta­tive MRI, 12 patients had either no atro­phy or an actu­al growth above the base­line vol­ume of their hip­pocam­pus. These pre­lim­i­nary find­ings sup­port the con­cept that a per­son­al­ized Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram can improve cog­ni­tive func­tion and either reverse or grow the vol­ume of hip­pocam­pus in elder­ly with MCI.

Fotuhi-photo-8-1-239x300— A Har­vard and Johns Hop­kins-trained neu­rol­o­gist and neu­ro­sci­en­tist, Dr. Majid Fotuhi is chair­man of Mem­o­syn Neu­rol­ogy Insti­tute, Med­ical Direc­tor of Neu­roGrow Brain Fit­ness Cen­ter, and Affil­i­ate Staff at Johns Hop­kins Howard Coun­ty Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal.


To learn more, read the arti­cles Solv­ing the Brain Fit­ness Puz­zle Is the Key to Self-Empow­ered Aging and Can you grow your hip­pocam­pus? Yes. Here’s how, and why it mat­ters.

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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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