Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Retooling brain health care with pervasive, inexpensive, data-driven digital technologies


While sophis­ti­cat­ed neu­roimag­ing tech­niques such as fMRI (func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing) pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant boost in our under­stand­ing of the brain — and research stud­ies con­stant­ly report­ed all over the media — they are very cost­ly. This makes it dif­fi­cult to reach the mass scale required to con­duct mean­ing­ful research and to improve the brain health care of mil­lions if not bil­lions of peo­ple around the globe.

Good news is, we are wit­ness­ing an explo­sion of new meth­ods that make use of low cost, ubiq­ui­tous tech­nolo­gies to inform brain health pre­ven­tion, diag­noses and treat­ments on a wide scale.

Max Little’s five-minute TEDTalk A Test For Parkinson’s With A Phone Call pro­vides a great exam­ple. Assum­ing the 10,000-subject exper­i­ment run by the Parkinson’s Voice Ini­tia­tive is suc­cess­ful, we will soon have a new dis­ease mea­sure that is both accu­rate and acces­si­ble. The brain may be an amaz­ing­ly com­plex organ, but with the right tools and some inge­nu­ity, we can build on that com­plex­i­ty to find new ways to improve brain health across the full lifes­pan.

Parkinson’s, as Lit­tle points out, afflicts over 6 mil­lion indi­vid­ual world­wide, but it’s just one of a num­ber of neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions that togeth­er take a ter­ri­ble col­lec­tive toll. Think about ADHD, con­cus­sions, depres­sion, Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, and more. Improv­ing pre­ven­tion and care for all these con­di­tions faces one com­mon obsta­cle: the lack of scal­able assess­ments that can help objec­tive­ly assess and mon­i­tor the con­tin­u­um between health and dis­ease. With­out them, we need to rely exclu­sive­ly on very expen­sive med­ical equip­ment and clin­i­cal eval­u­a­tions, which means too few peo­ple, and too late, access them.

So what are some alter­na­tives? Little’s exper­i­ment is based on the phone. Oth­ers are research­ing blood tests. A surge of inno­va­tion is already tak­ing place in Inter­net-enabled dig­i­tal plat­forms designed to mon­i­tor and enhance cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al func­tion­ing. For exam­ple, in this mar­ket report we pre­dict­ed that, in just a few years…

  • More than one mil­lion adults in North Amer­i­ca alone will take a self-admin­is­tered annu­al brain health check-up via their iPad or Android tablet.
  • iPad-based cog­ni­tive screen­ings will inform more diag­noses of Alzheimer’s dis­ease and MCI than neu­roimag­ing.
  • More than one mil­lion ama­teur ath­letes will bet­ter man­age pos­si­ble con­cus­sions by tak­ing cog­ni­tive base­line tests via a mobile device.
  • Bio­met­rics-aid­ed med­i­ta­tion will become the next big thing in cor­po­rate and con­sumer well­ness.
  • More than 150,000 teenage and adult AAA mem­bers will access web-based brain train­ing to become safer dri­vers.

These tools are espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful when used, as we also saw in Little’s talk, in com­bi­na­tion with large datasets that pro­vide researchers and devel­op­ers with an unprece­dent­ed amount of infor­ma­tion used to hone their diag­nos­tic and pre­dic­tive abil­i­ties. Over the course of this decade, we will like­ly see Big Data appli­ca­tions that will enable tru­ly per­son­al­ized brain health solu­tions, based on an individual’s brain char­ac­ter­is­tics and pro­gres­sion over time. If we are to meet a mas­sive and grow­ing need, we’ll need to dis­rupt today’s sta­tus quo in which research is based on small and frag­ment­ed clin­i­cal tri­als, and where active brain care is often left for patients whose prob­lems have grown until it is too dif­fi­cult to man­age them.

Now, tech­nolo­gies bring no val­ue with­out actu­al users.

What is tru­ly excit­ing is the con­flu­ence of fac­tors mak­ing brain health and fit­ness a pri­or­i­ty for the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. Eighty three per­cent of respon­dents to a Sharp­Brains sur­vey of 3,000+ deci­sion-mak­ers and ear­ly adopters said that “adults of all ages should take care of their ‘brain fit­ness,’ with­out wait­ing for their doc­tors to tell them to” and also that they “would per­son­al­ly take a brief assess­ment every year as an ‘annu­al men­tal check-up.” At the same time as the idea of brain fit­ness starts to go main­stream (con­trast where phys­i­cal fit­ness was fifty years ago with where it is now), equip­ment that used to be expen­sive and cum­ber­some is becom­ing user-friend­ly and inex­pen­sive.

2016 SharpBrains Virtual Summit: Reinventing Brain HealthWhile brain health inno­va­tion still has a ways to go before reach­ing the lev­el of devel­op­ment as phys­i­cal fit­ness and car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, it is hun­dreds of pio­neers like Max Lit­tle who are push­ing things for­ward at an ever quick­en­ing pace and often under the radar. What seems uncon­ven­tion­al today may well look con­ven­tion­al by as near as 2020.


–> Learn more & Reg­is­ter to par­tic­i­pate at the 2016 Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit: Rein­vent­ing Brain Health (Decem­ber 6–8th, 2016)

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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 and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.