Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


February Update: Retooling Brain Health for the 21st Century

Welcome to the February edi­tion of Sharp­Brains monthly eNewslet­ter:

First Report of the Council on the Ageing Society: Global Policy journal publishes the full Policy Principles and call to action outlined by the Global Agenda Coun­cil on the Ageing Society, an initiative run by the World Eco­nomic Forum which our CEO Alvaro Fernandez was honored to join in 2008.

Love Your Brain:  Did you remember to love your brain on St. Valentine’s Day? Let Dr. Marian Dia­mond show why we better do so –and how.


Who will Benefit From Training?  New research shows that measuring brain activity patterns can predict who may benefit most from traning interventions -and who may not. Please note that the Kramer lab involved in this research is now offering a postdoctoral fellowship.

A Quick Test to Detect Athletes’ Concussions:  This new test can be per­formed at the side­line of sport­ing events to help detect con­cus­sions by look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of eye move­ments.

The Best Way to Learn: Tak­ing a test in which you recall what you have read seems to be a much better strategy than either study­ing the mate­r­ial repeat­edly or draw­ing detailed dia­grams of what you are learn­ing.


Brain Training Games for Seniors: Donal O’Brien, from Queens University at Belfast, tells us about what motivates seniors to use a brain training app.

Do Crossword Puzzles Help to Counteract the Aging Process? If so, Which Ones and How? Researcher Nick Almond compares the stimulation potential of two different types of crosswords: general knowledge and cryptic.

Vitamin D and Cognitive Decline: This study supports that patients with vit­a­min D defi­ciency show an increased risk of cog­ni­tive decline.

Baby Sleeps and Brain Development: How much sleep a 12 month old baby gets can influ­ence the devel­op­ment of his/her exec­u­tive func­tions.

PTSD: Can we Disrupt the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories? A discussion of the dif­fer­ent tech­niques used/ under research that can help PTSD patients.


Books and Summit Updates

Visual Illusions in Art and Science: These surprising classic illusions illustrate how art and magic can help science in undertansing how we perceive the world around us.

2011 SharpBrains Summit Agenda: You can now view the latest Agenda for the whole Summit and a 3-minute clip to learn how the SharpBrains Virtual Sum­mit: Retooling Brain Health for the 21st Century (March 30th – April 1st) will work.


Brain Teaser

Mea­sure your Men­tal Speed and Flexibility: Finally, let us challenge you to try this fun and inter­ac­tive ver­sion of the famous Stroop test.

Council on the Ageing Society, at the Summit of the Global Agenda

Heading to Dubai today (a 15-hour direct flight!), coming back to San Francisco next Monday.

Last year I wrote about this remarkable new initiative by the imagesWorld Economic Forum here (proposal) and here (reflections, emerging discussion). This year’s update:

Twitter: #WEFDubai. Will tweet during the event, and blog about it next week.

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this article belongs to the excellent May 2009 special issue on Augmenting Cognition at scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. The article, an industry overview, is reproduced here with authorization by the Frontiers Research Foundation)

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age

By Alvaro Fernandez

Groundbreaking cognitive neuroscience research has occurred over the last 20 years – without parallel growth of consumer awareness and appropriate professional dissemination. “Cognition” remains an elusive concept with unclear implications outside the research community.

Earlier this year, I presented a talk to health care professionals at the New York Academy of Medicine, titled “Brain Fitness Software: Helping Consumers Separate Hope from Hype”. I explained what computerized cognitive assessment and training tools can do (assess/enhance specific cognitive functions), what they cannot do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the current uncertainties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symptoms). At the same symposium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, provided guidance on why and how to screen for executive function deficits in the context of dementia.

I could perceive two emerging trends at the event: 1) “Augmenting Cognition” research is most commonly framed as a healthcare, often pharmacological topic, with the traditional cognitive bias in medicine of focusing on detection and treatment of disease, 2) In addition, there is a growing interest in non-invasive enhancement options and overall lifestyle issues. Research findings in Augmenting Cognition are only just beginning to reach the mainstream marketplace, mostly through healthcare channels. The opportunity is immense, but we will need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels.

In January 2009, we polled the 21,000 subscribers of SharpBrains’ market research eNewsletter to identify attitudes and behaviors towards the “brain fitness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a number of consumer surveys and focus groups to connect with a wider audience). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key questions we asked was, “What is the most important problem you see in the brain fitness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some examples of the survey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most important problems in the brain fitness field

Public awareness (39%): “To get people to understand that heredity alone does not decide brain functioning”. We need to ramp up efforts to build public awareness and enthusiasm about brain research, including establishing clear links to daily living. We can collaborate with initiatives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week and use the recent “Neuroscience Core Concepts” materials developed by the Society for Neuroscience to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of standards and clear definitions is very confusing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Gray is the New Gold

The Longevity Dividend is a theory that says we hope to intervene scientifically to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related diseases. Delaying aging just seven years would slash rates of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in half. That’s the longevity part.

The dividend comes from the social, economic, and health bonuses that would then be available to spend on schools, energy, jobs, infrastructure trillions of dollars that today we spend on healthcare services. In fact, at the rate we’re going, by the year 2020 one out of every $5 spent in this country will be spent on healthcare. Obviously, something has to change.

Enter the Longevity Dividend. The Longevity Dividend doesn’t suggest that we live longer; instead, it calls for living better. The idea is that if we use science to increase healthspan, not lifespan. In other words, tomorrows 50-year-old would have the health profile of a 43-year-old.

It might sound like science fiction, but, in fact, it’s quite possible. We’re already doing it in some animal models using genetic and dietary interventions, techniques related to what scientists call “the biology of aging.”

Getting there in humans, however, means embracing an entirely new approach to our thinking about disease and aging, and how we conduct scientific research into the two.

Getting Scientists’ Attention

A group of eminent researchers first proposed the Longevity Dividend in a 2006 article published in The Scientist. The authors, S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatics at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Daniel P. Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, DC, Richard A. Miller, MD, PhD, professor of pathology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Robert N. Butler, MD, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center in New York, intended their essay to be a “general statement to scientists about the need for a paradigm shift in the way we think about aging and disease.

The researchers also met with U.S. senators who served on the Senate committee that oversaw the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “We told them we believed Read the rest of this entry »

Making Healthy Choices: Primare Care and Prevention

Hiroshi Komiyama, President of the University of Tokyo and Chairperson of the Global Agenda Council on the Challenges of Gerontology I am a member of, just provided council members with a brief update of his participation in the recent World Economic Forum.

Part of the proceedings are public – you may enjoy reading this panel write-up of the session Healthcare under Stress:

– “Japan has the world’s oldest population. Health and longevity create wealth and, thus, “health begets wealth”. It is documented that nations that develop a five-year life expectancy advantage also create a larger GDP. A healthy childhood and adulthood contribute to a more productive old age. New markets and industries are arising – “silver industries” such as financial services, health, housing and hospitality geared to senior citizens. Longevity needs to be linked to health – including cognitive health – and lifestyle choices play a major role in health.”

– “The public health focus is shifting from infections to cardiovascular diseases. Complex new models are necessary to develop better responses and improved health – with the primary emphasis on “really good primary healthcare” and prevention – to lower costs. Prevention increases the healthy years of a person’s life. The challenge is creating the incentive for prevention: how can people be encouraged to make healthy choices? Mobilized populations can drive the change. Finland has an 80% lower incidence of heart disease than 30 years ago due to such incentives.”

Full write-up: Healthcare under Stress

Related articles:

– The Future of the Aging Society: Burden or Human Capital?

– Update: Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation

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