Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Psy­chol­o­gists and physi­cians

ajPsy­chol­o­gists and physi­cians will have to help patients nav­i­gate through the over­whelm­ing range of avail­able prod­ucts and inter­pret the results of cog­ni­tive assess­ments. Indeed, accord­ing to Dr. Lar­ry McCleary (whose inter­view you will find at the end of Chap­ter 2), health pro­fes­sion­als should coun­sel their patients on tips for brain health in the same way they dis­cuss car­diac risk fac­tors and how to address them.

How­ev­er, as Dr. Arthur Lavin points out, many pro­fes­sion­als were edu­cat­ed in the days when sci­en­tists still believed that the brain was not much plas­tic and rather “un-train­able” (see Dr. Lavin’s inter­view at the end of Chap­ter 3). As a con­se­quence, these pro­fes­sion­als are quite skep­ti­cal regard­ing brain fit­ness and its poten­tial ben­e­fits. Sig­nif­i­cant pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment efforts will be required.

Insur­ance com­pa­nies

Insur­ance com­pa­nies will intro­duce incen­tives for mem­bers to encour­age healthy aging. Many insur­ance plans today include rewards for mem­bers who, for exam­ple, vol­un­tar­i­ly take health-relat­ed ques­tion­naires that enable them to iden­ti­fy steps to take to improve health. Increas­ing­ly, brain-relat­ed lifestyle fac­tors will become part of these inter­ven­tions.

Com­pa­nies like All­state have already tak­en proac­tive mea­sures to reduce dri­ving risks in old­er dri­vers by offer­ing their Penn­syl­va­nia mem­bers aged 50–75 to par­tic­i­pate in a train­ing pro­gram involv­ing the Insight soft­ware. If this ini­tia­tive is suc­cess­ful All­state plans to use the pro­gram nation­wide and per­haps even offer dis­counts to pol­i­cy-hold­ers who com­mit to using the pro­gram.

U.S. mil­i­tary

As the mil­i­tary increas­ing­ly funds research to improve the diag­nos­tic and treat­ment of prob­lems such as Post-Trau­mat­ic Stress Dis­or­der and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury, the result­ing prod­ucts will ulti­mate­ly find com­mer­cial uses.

For instance, Dr. Arthur Kramer’s lab is involved in a five years study for the U.S. Navy to explore ways to cap­i­tal­ize on emerg­ing research about brain plas­tic­i­ty to enhance train­ing and per­for­mance. The MIT and Dr. Kramer’s lab will be look­ing for the best ways to increase the effi­cien­cy and effi­ca­cy of train­ing of indi­vid­ual and team per­for­mance skills. They will focus on skills requir­ing high lev­els of flex­i­bil­i­ty. Dr. Kramer points out that the results from this study will be in the pub­lic domain, where they will con­tribute to the growth of the field of brain fit­ness in gen­er­al (see Dr. Kramer’s inter­view in Chap­ter 2).

Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca

Brain fit­ness will be added to cor­po­rate well­ness and lead­er­ship ini­tia­tives. Large employ­ers with exist­ing cor­po­rate well­ness and lead­er­ship pro­grams will intro­duce brain fit­ness spe­cif­ic pro­grams aimed not only at improved health out­comes but also at increased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in the work­place.

Dr. Daniel Gopher, whose inter­view is report­ed in Chap­ter 5, describes what process one would fol­low to devel­op appli­ca­tions for spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties or pro­fes­sions: “First, one needs to ana­lyze what cog­ni­tive skills are involved in play­ing at top lev­el, and then devel­op a com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tion that trains those skills. What most peo­ple do not real­ize is that top play­ers are not born top play­ers. We are not just talk­ing about instincts. We are talk­ing about skills that can be trained.”

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

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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.