Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Can Brain Fitness Innovation Enhance Cognitive Rehab and Driving Safety?

Today we share must-read insights from  Katherine Sullivan, Director of the Brain Fitness Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Peter Kissinger, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Both of them will discuss their ongoing work and lessons learned at the upcom­ing 2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit (March 30th — April 1st, 2011). The interviews below were conducted via email.

Katherine Sullivan is the Director of the Brain Fitness Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

1. Katherine, how would you define “brain fit­ness” vs. “phys­i­cal fit­ness”?

In our context (helping active duty service members and veterans recover from cognitive dysfunction most associated with traumatic brain injury), I’d say brain fitness is the outcome we work towards: the cognitive resources required to return to duty or reintegrate into daily and professional lives as much as possible. In this sense, Read the rest of this entry »

Four New Speakers Confirmed – 2011 SharpBrains Summit

We are honored to announce four new confirmed SharpBrains Summit Speakers: Nigel Smith at AARP, Peter Kissinger at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Keith Wesnes at United BioSource, and Ken Kosik at UCSB Neuroscience Research Institute.

Nigel Smith, AARP Strategy and Innovation Director, is responsible for developing decentralized innovation models for AARP and for consulting with business units in the execution of innovation processes. Prior to AARP, Nigel was the Director or Product Innovation for Visa USA. Other professional experiences have been with McKinsey & Company, Goldman Sachs Group, and KPMG. Nigel holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Stanford University and a Bachelors in Business Administration degree from Howard University. Read the rest of this entry »

What impressed the Judging Panel re. Innovation Awards Winners and Finalists

Let me now share what the Judging PanelAlvaroFer_finalfile_180310 and the SharpBrains team found most impressive from each Winner and Finalist of the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, accompanied by some additional information on each of these 10 noteworthy initiatives and case studies.

Grand Prize Winner

USA HockeyUSA Hockey, Inc., is the National Governing Body of the sport of ice hockey in the United States. With a membership of nearly 600,000 players, coaches, officials and volunteers that span all 50 states, USA Hockey seeks to promote the growth of hockey and provide the best possible experience for all participants by encouraging, developing, advancing and administering the sport.

Project Scope: The National Team Development Program (NTDP), a USA Hockey body, is a full-time development program aimed at preparing under-18 student-athletes for participation on US National Teams. Its efforts focus both on high-caliber participation on the ice and individual skill development. The program is composed of two squads: the US National Under-18 and Under-17 Teams.

During the past hockey season, the NTDP implemented a cognitive training system designed to help hockey players develop perception and decision-making skills called The Hockey IntelliGym. Designed to enhance ‘Hockey Sense’—or the way players gather information from their surroundings, make and execute decisions—The Hockey IntelliGym training system utilizes a software-based training environment with customized algorithms that adjust training programs to individual players according to ability and progress. Players engaged in a twice-a-week cognitive training regimen that became an integral part of their overall training program during which time cognitive scientists monitored players’ performance and provided coaching staff with analyses and progress reports. Among statistical figures measured, the most notable was the win ratio of teams involved, as IntelliGym trained team won more games.

The IntelliGym program took more than two years and $2 million to put together with the collaboration of Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE) and was enabled by a grant from the BIRD Foundation who scientifically reviewed the plan and financially supported it.

Project Leader: Scott Monaghan, Director of Operations, USA Hockey National Team Development Program

Selected comments by Judging Panel: Excellent team approach between specialist, coach and player. Great concept and need, and insights/model could apply very broadly to skill development. The adaptation of cognitive training to this particular sports domain is clever and can be generalized to a wide range of other activities. I was impressed with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and their Hockey Intelligym. To develop/adapt such a program and clearly demonstrate it’s impact on real-life performance, is fantastic. There is also a great opportunity to expand this to even more athletes and sports and to everyday life.

Silver Prize Winners

AllstateAllstate (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer. Allstate is reinventing protection and retirement to help individuals in approximately 17 million households protect what they have today and better prepare for tomorrow.

Project Scope: Allstate embarked on a journey with Posit Science Corporation to evaluate the interest in and effectiveness of Posit Science’s software—leveraging technology shown in National Institutes of Health funded studies to improve visual processing skills important for safe driving—to test a software program (Insight) in Pennsylvania. Selected drivers, 50 years and older, were invited to help validate the impact cognitive training has on driving safety.

The project was a “proof of concept” for what may turn out to be a significant effort by Allstate to prevent injuries and save lives, enable older people to maintain their independence longer and provide peace of mind to adult children faced with difficult decisions as parents age. The most important reduction was in insured losses and resulting injuries, trauma and disruption to the lives of those involved in auto collisions. After observing the accident behavior of those who completed the Posit program, relative to a well selected control group, Allstate saw a measurable decline that was statistically valid.

Project Leader: Tom Warden, Assistant Vice President, Allstate Research and Planning Center

Selected comments by Judging Panel: The potential impact of this program is second to none. I was impressed with Allstate’s project and their results that showed that the Posit Science software positively impacted the accident records of those completing the program. Allstate should be commended for trying something new and different and for creating such an initiative. Pretty soon I can imagine brain fitness discounts alongside safe driver and other discounts.

images (1)Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by A.M. Best. The company provides a full range of personalized insurance and financial services, including including auto and life insurance, pensions, health and productivity services, and more.

Project Scope: Nationwide Mutual Insurance worked with benefits provider OptumHealth and their partner Brain Resource to add a Web based brain training tool (MyBrainSolutions) to help employees enhance positivity, emotional resilience and deal with others more effectively — all key elements to productivity. More than 500 employees enrolled in the company’s ‘Healthy Holiday Challenge’ during the first week. The results of the new resource led to more positive behavior changes and greater productivity among the workforce.

As part of the MyBrainSolutions launch, associates were asked to register, take a baseline brain assessment, accumulate a target number of points during a 30-day period and then take a second brain assessment. The company found that aspects of positivity, emotional resilience and social skills improved in the short 6-week initiative and saw small changes in productivity were noticeable as well. 87% of those participating in the program indicated they were planning to take additional steps to improve health after participating while 33.5% wouldn’t have accessed other resources to address health and wellbeing if it weren’t for the initiative.

Project Leader: Kathleen Herath, AVP Health & Productivity

Selected comments by Judging Panel: Harvard Business Review estimated a couple years ago that $150B is lost annually as a result of lost employee productivity. Given all of the life events and transitions that individuals experience each year that can distract, this provides a feasible and attractive lever for employees to take advantage of. Employers of the future that can implement innovative models such as these to adapt to the changing needs of employees, enhance employee productivity, and help to redefine what work means by infusing the professional with the personal will win, and have as a reward loyal employees, a happy culture, and an overall higher performing workforce. The positive self-report measures were impressive as well as the improvements in such a short period of time. Seems to have potential for replicability with scalable, low-cost programs. In principle this approach could have large societal benefits. Implementing cognitive training in a work place is novel and taps into the desire to optimize professional functioning as well as stave off decline.  The emotional and self-regulation training is extremely important in the workplace setting.

Rest of Top 10 Finalists

(Note: out of the 40 organizations that submitted entries to the inaugural 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards, 10 became Top 10 Finalists. Here we want to recognize the organizations which, while not winning the overall contest, did impress the judging panel with the quality of their ongoing initiatives. They are ordered by the approximate age of their end user population, from younger to older:

Most Innovative Special Ed School

Arrowsmith SchoolArrowsmith School offers a comprehensive suite of cognitive programs for students with learning disabilities, targeting 19 areas of the brain most commonly involved in learning. The Arrowsmith Program, which originated in Toronto, is now offered in schools in Canada and the US.

Project Scope: Help remediate Learning Disabilities by developing and implementing a proprietary suite of neuroplasticity-based exercises in 3 formats: computer-based, auditory, pen and paper.

  • Project Leader: Barbara Arrowsmith, Director
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel:  How easy would it be to say “they’s not smart enough” or “they’re making excuses”, instead of “they have a cognitive shortcoming that can be addressed.” The target audience of 5-10% of school children with learning disabilities can now have a fighting chance if models like these can be scaled through policy and/or replication. This gets my vote as the model creates almost immeasurable lifetime impact for those fortunate enough to be reap all the cognitive benefits of the program. Arrowsmith efforts since 1979 puts them in a class of their own as pioneers. Arrowsmith also has a process learning from and refining its initiatives. Program can be built further on very solid foundations.

Most Innovative Behavioral Health Provider

UBHCUniversity Behavioral HealthCare (UBHC) was established in 1971 as a division of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and is one of the largest providers of behavioral healthcare services in the country.

Project Scope: Remediate cognitive impairments associated with severe mental illness by developing and implementing an innovative curriculum and proprietary manual for cognitive rehab support groups, combining best of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, cognitive training, and social skills training.

  • Project Leader: Steven M. Silverstein, Ph.D., Director, Division of Schizophrenia Research & Director of Research
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Noteworthy person-centered approach, focused on how to impact quality of life with self-empowerment tools and social support.

Most Innovative Foundation

aaaftslogoThe AAA Foundation for Traffic Safetyhas a mission to identify problems, foster research that seeks solutions, and disseminate information and educational materials that promote good safety practices.

Project Scope: Improve driving safety among older adults by  promoting and testing visual processing training program InSight by Posit Science.

  • Project Leader: Peter Kissinger, President and CEO
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Very high quality program Innovative. Eminently scalable. Benefits users, AAA, and community at large – very good synergy.This approach grounds cognitive training in an activity that for many is critical to independence. The tie to insurance will motivate the training which may increase road safety and have broader benefits for cognitive health.

Most Innovative Hospital

Saint Lukes Brain and Stroke Institute LogoSaint Luke’s Brain and Stroke Institute, part of Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas and Missouri, covers the entire spectrum of care including acute intervention, prevention of complications, secondary prevention and neurorehabilitation.

Project Scope: Help extend healthy independent living and address cognitive impairments by making accessible a Brain Fitness Center that combines education, assessments, lifestyle advice and targeted neurocognitive and mindfulness-based training.

  • Project Leader: John Corbaley, M.S., M.A., CCC/Sp., Director, Brain Fitness Center, Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Saint Luke’s program was impressive in a number of ways. I liked that they worked with multiple disciplines to create a holistic program focused on improved brain health through cognitive training, nutrition and exercise as well as other activities. It is no surprise that they have a wait list of users eager to join their program.

Most Innovative Adult Education

OUSD Logo Color JPEG
Oakland Unified School District has a mission to ensure that all students graduate as caring, competent, and critical thinkers, as well as fully-informed, engaged, and contributing citizens, prepared to succeed in college and career. Adult and Career Education services empower adults through through education and training.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living (for new pilot: improve academic success among at-risk students) by offering a Brain Fitness Class that combines curriculum, discussions and computerized cognitive training (by Posit Science, for older adults; by Lumos Labs, for new pilot with young adults).

  • Project Leader: Teri Barr, Brain Health Program Coordinator
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: Strong approach to overcome some of the age boundaries among targeted populations. What I love the most about this wonderful success story is how this program has been able to appeal to individuals across socio-economic, demographic, and educational backgrounds, and in the process deliver both real and perceived value. One way I think it has done this is through presenting a multi-faceted value proposition (i.e., build cognitive health + build community + have fun in the process) in a single setting. Lessons learned were also very well articulated, and the approach of combining high-tech with high-touch I thought was ingenious and realistic given the context.

Most Innovative Mental Health Association

1-12754The Mental Health Association of Rockland County, in New York State, is a non-profit organization with a mission to prevent mental illness and foster mental wellness through community outreach, direct service and advocacy for legislation and programs.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living by offering a cognitive health series of live events to engage the community with a stigma-free, proactive brain fitness message, supported by professional training, socialization platforms and cognitive training (by CogniFit).

  • Project Leader: Karen Oates, Director
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: So great to see a Mental Health Association promoting this important project and allying with so many groups and organizations, including CogniFit, in doing so. Great that they have been able to overcome the stigma so often associated with aging and mental fitness through the project. With the manual and pamphlet, there are excellent replication possibilities.

Most Innovative Health Plan

logoSCAN Health Plan has been focusing for more than 30 years on the unique needs of people with Medicare and is now the country’s fourth largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plan. The company currently has nearly 120,000 members in California and Arizona.

Project Scope: Extend healthy independent living by developing the concept of a “SCAN Van” to deliver health screenings & education combined with physical and cognitive exercise (Wii gaming; touch screen-based cognitive training by HappyNeuron) in places where seniors gather.

  • Project Leader: Lena Perelman, Director of Community Outreach
  • Selected Comments by Judging Panel: A clever plan for the delivery of cognitive exercises. SCAN’s is innovative not only because its mobile but because it presents a more holistic approach to brain health with its “multi-pronged” program.

Here you can learn more about the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards.

Update: Retooling Use It or Lose It at New York Public Library

Here you have the September edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health Brain Fitnessand brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

In the current edition of The Journal on Active Aging, I discuss why we need to Retool “Use it or lose it”, and why routine, doing things inside our comfort zones, is the most common enemy of the novelty, variety and challenge our brains need. You can read the full article for free Here.

Book Tour

We are glad to report that The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness continues to obtain excellent endorsements:

“This is the only book that I know of that seamlessly integrates latest information about cognitive health across the lifespan. Very useful to anyone interested in brain care.”

–Arthur Kramer, Ph. D., Professor of Psychology at University of Illinois

“…we now have a rock solid primer on brain health that we can recommend with confidence…I found it particularly effective to start the book with a list of ten brain myths that need debunking.”
–Michael C. Patterson, former Manager NRTA/ Staying Sharp at AARP

The official book tour starts this week, and includes New York Public Library!
09/08: Club One Fitness Center, Petaluma, CA
09/09: San Francisco State University OLLI
09/11: ASA Brain Health Day, Oakland, CA
09/23: New York Public Library, Bronx Library Center
09/25: New York Public Library, Stephen Schwarzman Building
10/06, SmartSilvers MIT Northern California, Palo Alto, CA
10/14: UC-Berkeley OLLI, CA

You can find all the details here. If you haven’t read the book yet, you can order it via Amazon Here (print book) or Here (Kindle edition). Or ask your local bookstore or library.

Brain Reserve

Education AND Lifelong Cognitive Activities Delay Memory Loss: Dr. Pascale Michelon reports how a recent follow-up to the Bronx Aging Study, where 488 initially healthy adults have been tracked over 20 years, shows that every additional cognitive “activity day” (participating in one activity for one day a week) helps delay for about two months the onset of rapid memory loss as we grow older.
Need ideas for extra activities?

Changing our Minds…by Reading Fiction: What about getting a novel in your hands (or writing one)? By imagining many possible worlds, argues psychologist Keith Oatley, fiction gives us the surprise which can help expand our understanding of ourselves and the social world.

SharpBrains Fan Page in Facebook: What about participating in our new Fan Page at Facebook? You can not only receive latest updates but comment on your favorite articles and teasers, and discuss your own ideas and resources.

Medication and Training

Cognitive Enhancement via Pharmacology AND Neuropsychology: our co-founder Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg integrates three apparently separate worlds -cognitive enhancement via drugs, brain fitness training software, computerized neurocognitive assessments-, in a much updated new edition of his book The Executive Brain.

Comparing Cognitive Training & Medication Treatment for ADHD: a recent study shows that working memory training improves working memory more than stimulant medication treatment-and benefits persist longer. Does this matter?, Does this mean training is better than medication for kids with attention deficits?  Dr. David Rabiner dissects the study searching for answers.


AAA to deploy DriveSharp: Peter Kissinger, CEO of the AAA Foundation, explains why the current system of driver licensing is inadequate and inconsistent, why AAA is recommending older drivers use a new cognitive training program, and why he believes insurance companies will soon start to offer brain training to their members.

SharpBrains Network for Brain Fitness Innovation: in order to help leaders of the brain fitness and cognitive health community learn, connect and collaborate, SharpBrains has created a virtual LinkedIn network for clients. The network will be formally launched with a webinar on September 29th that will discuss The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market in 2009. For organizations that want to order the report, attend the webinar, and join the network, more information is available Here.

Brain Teaser

Brain Quiz: Do You Have a Brain?: Dr. Pascale Michelon dares you to answer these 10 questions correctly to prove that you have a brain.


AAA to deploy Brain Fitness Software DriveSharp to Assess and Train Older Driver’s Brains

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety just started to recommend a new driver safety program called DriveSharp (see AAA and Posit Release Program to Improve Drivers’ Minds), developed by Posit Science. DriveSharp is a computerized cognitive assessment and training tool based on Karlene Ball’s research on older adults’ cognitive fitness and driving.

In the press release for the agreement, Peter Kissinger, driver safety research and policy veteran and CEO of the AAA Foundation, says thatPeter Kissinger AAA Foundation “Part of making our nation’s roads safer is helping mature drivers who wish to stay active – a quickly growing population – maintain or improve their driving safety.”

We have Peter Kissinger with us to discuss the context for this innovative initiative.

Peter, I appreciate your time. In order to set the context, would you introduce the role and priorities of the AAA Foundation?

Sure. All your readers will know that AAA is the main driver association in North America, with over 50 million members. The AAA Foundation is focused on the research and policy required to improve driver safety and has 4 strategic priorities:
– Introduce a culture of traffic safety. It is an outrage that there is a driving-related death every 13 minutes in the US, and yet, we seem to accept this as status quo
– Improve road safety, especially on rural roads, where almost 60% of the deaths occur,
– Improve safety among teens, one of the highest risk groups
– Improve safety among seniors, another high-risk group.

In terms of driver-centered interventions, are your priorities are teenage and older drivers?

driver fatality rateYes. You have probably seen the U-shaped risk curve (Editor note: see figure at left) that shows how accident risks are very high among teenagers, then decrease and remain stable until our 60s, and then increase again.

We have promoted initiatives such as DriverZED (see to help teenagers better identify and manage the typical sources of risk, so they advance faster through the learning curve. For older drivers we focus on how to balance the privilege of driving with the right of mobility – we know that losing driving independence can bring a variety of negative consequences for the individual.

Given aging population trends, it is clear we need to introduce better systems to balance those two goals you just outlined -safety and mobility. Do you think as a society we are prepared?

I don’t think we are, and I am pessimistic that we will be in the short term. This is a very important problem: official estimates say that the proportion of all drivers who are over 65 years of age will grow from 15% today to 25% in 2025.

Let me give you some background: two years ago we put together a workshop to identify the state of the research and the state of the practice of driver safety among Read the rest of this entry »

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