Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Foreword

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Writ­ing a fore­word to this book against a tight dead­line is a some­what chal­leng­ing task. As you will learn lat­er in the book though, there is rea­son to believe that such men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing, nov­el activ­i­ties are ben­e­fi­cial for keep­ing my brain sharp as I gain in wis­dom — and in years. Like many peo­ple, I have noticed changes with aging since my younger adult years. And while we all wish for a mag­ic pill, at least for the time being it is our behav­iors, per­haps aid­ed by tech­nol­o­gy, which can help us to age well phys­i­cal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, and cog­ni­tive­ly.

Indeed, nov­el infor­ma­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, net­work­ing, and inter­face tech­nolo­gies are poised to trans­form the way we approach our life­long health and well-being, includ­ing our very under­stand­ing of what it means to be healthy and well. As a pro­gram offi­cer at the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, I have been wit­ness­ing mul­ti­ple dis­cov­er­ies and advances stim­u­lat­ed by the NSF Smart Health and Well­be­ing pro­gram that may bring sub­stan­tial improve­ments to how we enhance health. With rapid progress in sen­sor, online and mobile tech­nol­o­gy, advances in the domain of Smart Health open a new world of pos­si­bil­i­ty for the sys­tem­at­ic mon­i­tor­ing and man­ag­ing of long-term health out­comes, going far beyond the spo­radic treat­ment of acute con­di­tions. The notion of Smart Health places greater empha­sis on the man­age­ment of well­ness, rather than heal­ing ill­ness; it acknowl­edges the role of home, fam­i­ly, and com­mu­ni­ty as sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tors to indi­vid­ual health and well­be­ing; and it rec­og­nizes the cen­tral role of an individual’s cog­ni­tion in dri­ving and main­tain­ing healthy habits over time.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and I first met at a 2009 sci­en­tif­ic sym­po­sium host­ed by Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty. I was there to give a talk about the promis­ing poten­tial in using com­put­er games as a way to mon­i­tor and per­haps main­tain cog­ni­tion over time. Alvaro gave an insight­ful overview of the state of the sci­ence and mar­ket­place for cog­ni­tive fit­ness. Mutu­al inter­ests nat­u­ral­ly led to a dis­cus­sion after the talks and many exchanges there­after. Since then, it has been my plea­sure to par­tic­i­pate in all three annu­al Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mits held so far – they pro­vide a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage with col­leagues at the fore­front of the sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, and mar­ket­place to sup­port brain health and fit­ness across the lifes­pan. Our inter­ac­tions includ­ed a Sep­tem­ber 2012 work­shop on com­put­er games, atten­tion and well-being host­ed by the White House Office of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy and the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion that brought togeth­er neu­ro­sci­en­tists, cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists and game design­ers.

The need for such trans­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion has long been rec­og­nized by Sharp­Brains, the pio­neer­ing orga­ni­za­tion bring­ing you this book, which has for a num­ber years been bring­ing togeth­er a com­mu­ni­ty of neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists work­ing towards a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the human brain, tech­nol­o­gists devis­ing ways to scale plat­forms and solu­tions, as well prac­ti­tion­ers and con­sumers look­ing for prac­ti­cal ways to make real changes in behav­ior and lifestyle to improve brain health and health over­all. This book reflects this diver­si­ty, cov­er­ing top­ics rang­ing from the com­plex­i­ty of the brain and its mech­a­nisms to the sig­nif­i­cance of dif­fer­ent types of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies to prac­ti­cal aspects of exer­cis­ing, nutri­tion, and train­ing.

A resource like this book in your hands pro­vides a great start­ing point: although there is no “final word” on this still nascent top­ic, an impor­tant trans­for­ma­tion is under­way that peo­ple need to be aware of and pre­pared for. This book is a great start for mak­ing sense of it all and for tak­ing active steps towards smart health, at the indi­vid­ual lev­el, and Smart Health, at the soci­etal lev­el. And while this book was writ­ten to be acces­si­ble to a wide audi­ence, it remains a worth­while and inter­est­ing read for experts as it pro­vides a thought­ful and well-inte­grat­ed sum­ma­ry of emerg­ing find­ings and hypothe­ses. This com­bined val­ue — for the gen­er­al and the expert read­er — is in part achieved through the inclu­sion of can­did inter­views with top researchers and lead­ers in var­i­ous rel­e­vant fields as well as suc­cinct sum­maries and very clear struc­ture and writ­ing.

In short, no mat­ter who you are, this is an impor­tant read. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Misha Pavel, PhD

Pro­fes­sor of Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing, Ore­gon Health and Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty, and Pro­gram Direc­tor for the Nation­al Sci­ence Foundation’s Smart Health and Well­be­ing Pro­gram.