Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Boost your Attention with Meditation

Brain train­ing does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean com­put­er­ized games. For instance, medi­a­tion may be a great tool to train your brain.

Dif­fer­ent parts of the brain sup­port dif­fer­ent func­tions. One func­tion, cen­tral to many of our actions, is “atten­tion”. Atten­tion can be defined as the abil­i­ty to sus­tain con­cen­tra­tion on a par­tic­u­lar object, action, or thought.
It can also be defined as the abil­i­ty to man­age com­pet­ing demands in our environment.connections between neu­rons, die. In the brain it is sup­port­ed main­ly by neu­ronal net­works in the pari­etal (yel­low in the fig­ure) and frontal (blue in the fig­ure) lobes.

What can be done to main­tain and boost such a fun­da­men­tal abil­i­ty?

Dr. Andrew New­berg (Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia), here inter­viewed by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez (CEO of Sharp­Brains) sug­gests that med­i­ta­tion may have cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits, espe­cial­ly relat­ed to atten­tion: Read the rest of this entry »

Fitter bodies = fitter brains. True at all ages?

The results of recent­ly pub­lished stud­ies sug­gest that fit­ter chil­dren also have fit­ter brains. It looks like exer­cis­ing your body pro­motes brain health. Is this true at all ages? How does it work? How much exer­cise should we do?

Phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and brain health in chil­dren

An emerg­ing lit­er­a­ture sug­gests that phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and high lev­els of aer­o­bic fit­ness dur­ing child­hood  may enhance cog­ni­tion. In the 2 most recent stud­ies by Kramer and col­leagues (2010), the cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and the brains of high­er-fit and low­er-fit 9- and 10-year-old chil­dren were exam­ined.

In one study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to ignore irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and attend to rel­e­vant cues. Fit­ter chil­dren also had larg­er basal gan­glia (more specif­i­cal­ly dor­sal stria­tum) than less fit chil­dren. The basal gan­glia play a key role in cog­ni­tive con­trol (e.g. prepar­ing, ini­ti­at­ing, inhibit­ing, switch­ing respons­es).

In anoth­er study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to mem­o­rize infor­ma­tion. Read the rest of this entry »

Tracking decline in the brain from the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s

Inter­est­ing arti­cle on The Dana Foun­da­tion web­site on how to mon­i­tor cog­ni­tive decline in the brain in the very ear­ly stages of Alzheimer’s: Func­tion­al MRI May Be Use­ful for Mon­i­tor­ing Cog­ni­tive Decline in the Elder­ly (Dana Foun­da­tion)

Alzheimer’s researchers have long want­ed to find bet­ter ways not only to diag­nose the dis­ease but also to mon­i­tor its pro­gres­sion from the ear­li­est stages.

A new study sug­gests that func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), a tech­nique cur­rent­ly used main­ly for neu­ro­science research or to guide brain surgery, could be use­ful in this clin­i­cal role.

[…] an ele­gant and thought-pro­vok­ing study.

Enhancing Cognition and Emotions for Learning — Learning & The Brain Conference

Alvaro and I had the good for­tune to attend a great con­fer­ence last week called Learn­ing & The Brain: Enhanc­ing Cog­ni­tion and Emo­tions for Learn­ing. It was a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors talk­ing with and lis­ten­ing to each oth­er. Some top­ics were meant to be applied today, but many were food for thought — insight on where sci­ence and edu­ca­tion are head­ed and how they influ­ence each oth­er.

Using dra­mat­ic new imag­ing tech­niques, such as fMRIs, PET, and SPECT, neu­ro­sci­en­tists are gain­ing valu­able infor­ma­tion about learn­ing. This pio­neer­ing knowl­edge is lead­ing not only to new ped­a­go­gies, but also to new med­ica­tions, brain enhance­ment tech­nolo­gies, and ther­a­pies.… The Con­fer­ence cre­ates an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary forum — a meet­ing place for neu­ro­sci­en­tists, edu­ca­tors, psy­chol­o­gists, clin­i­cians, and par­ents — to exam­ine these new research find­ings with respect to their applic­a­bil­i­ty in the class­room and clin­i­cal prac­tice.

Take-aways

  • Humans are a mix­ture of cog­ni­tion and emo­tion, and both ele­ments are essen­tial to func­tion and learn prop­er­ly
  • Edu­ca­tors and pub­lic pol­i­cy mak­ers need to learn more about the brain, how it grows, and how to cul­ti­vate it
  • Stu­dents of all ages need to be both chal­lenged and nur­tured in order to suc­ceed
  • Peo­ple learn dif­fer­ent­ly — try to teach and learn through as many dif­fer­ent modal­i­ties as pos­si­ble (engage lan­guage, motor skills, artis­tic cre­ation, social inter­ac­tion, sen­so­ry input, etc.)
  • While short-term stress can height­en your cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, long term stress kills you — you need to find bal­ance and release
  • Test anx­i­ety and sub­se­quent poor test results can be improved with behav­ioral train­ing with feed­back based on heart rate vari­abil­i­ty
  • Dr. Robert Sapol­sky is a very very enlight­en­ing and fun speak­er
  • Allow time for rest and con­sol­i­da­tion of learned mate­r­i­al
  • Emo­tion­al mem­o­ries are eas­i­er to remem­ber
  • Con­fer­ences like these per­form a real ser­vice in fos­ter­ing dia­logues between sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors

Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Blog Carnival #2

Wel­come to the Feb­ru­ary 19, 2007 edi­tion of brain fit­ness.

Today we want to high­light an excel­lent Inter­view with Aaron Beck on the His­to­ry of Cog­ni­tive Ther­a­py sub­mit­ted by the Beck Insti­tute. Dr. Beck was 83 when he gave this inter­view. To the ques­tion “Do you have a view about age­ing?”, he responds “I can only speak for myself. I know that prac­ti­cal­ly all my col­leagues from med­ical school days who are still around have retired. That is not some­thing that I think about. It is no more on my hori­zon now than it was when we first met a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry ago. I keep look­ing ahead.” He also says “I have always liked to uni­fy dif­fer­ent fields. Giv­en my back­ground in neu­rol­o­gy I do not see a con­flict between neu­rol­o­gy and psy­chol­o­gy. But if you look at the train­ing of con­tem­po­rary psy­chi­a­trists, for exam­ple, the two domains are total­ly dis­tinct. If psy­chi­a­try is to sur­vive as a dis­ci­pline, a merg­ing of the con­cepts of neu­rol­o­gy and psy­chol­o­gy will need to occur.” Read the rest of this entry »

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