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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Cognitive Reserve and Lifestyle

Update: we now have an in-depth inter­view with Yaakov Stern, lead­ing advo­cate of the cog­ni­tive reserve the­o­ry, and one of the authors of the paper we review below: click on Build Your Cog­ni­tive Reserve-Yaakov Stern. 


In hon­or of the Week of Sci­ence pre­sent­ed at Just Sci­ence from Mon­day, Feb­ru­ary 5, through Sun­day, Feb­ru­ary 11, we will be writ­ing about “just sci­ence” this week. We thought we would take this time to dis­cuss more deeply some of the key sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tions in brain fit­ness.

Today, we will high­light the key points in an excel­lent review of cog­ni­tive reserve: Scarmeas, Niko­laos and Stern, Yaakov. Cog­ni­tive reserve and lifestyle. Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal and Exper­i­men­tal Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy. 2003;25:625–33.

What is Cog­ni­tive Reserve?
The con­cept of a cog­ni­tive reserve has been around since 1998 when a post mortem analy­sis of 137 peo­ple with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease showed that the patients exhib­it­ed few­er clin­i­cal symp­toms than their actu­al pathol­o­gy sug­gest­ed. (Katz­man et al. 1988) They also showed high­er brain weights and greater num­ber of neu­rons when com­pared to age-matched con­trols. The inves­ti­ga­tors hypoth­e­sized that the patients had a larg­er “reserve” of neu­rons and abil­i­ties that off­set the loss­es caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then the con­cept of cog­ni­tive reserve has been defined as the abil­i­ty of an indi­vid­ual to tol­er­ate pro­gres­sive brain pathol­o­gy with­out demon­strat­ing clin­i­cal cog­ni­tive symp­toms.
Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Glossary

Giv­en the grow­ing aware­ness of this emerg­ing field, let’s review some of the most rel­e­vant con­cepts:

Brain Fit­ness: the gen­er­al state of good, sharp, brain and mind, espe­cial­ly as the result of men­tal and phys­i­cal exer­cise and prop­er nutri­tion.

Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: struc­tured set of brain exer­cis­es, usu­al­ly com­put­er-based, designed to train spe­cif­ic brain areas and func­tions in tar­get­ed ways, and mea­sured by brain fit­ness assess­ments.

Chron­ic Stress: ongo­ing, long-term stress. Con­tin­ued phys­i­o­log­i­cal arousal where stres­sors block the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons and neg­a­tive­ly impact the immune system’s defens­es.

Cog­ni­tive train­ing (or Brain Train­ing): vari­ety of brain exer­cis­es designed to help work out spe­cif­ic “men­tal mus­cles”. The prin­ci­ple under­ly­ing cog­ni­tive train­ing is to help improve “core” abil­i­ties, such as atten­tion, mem­o­ry, prob­lem-solv­ing, which many peo­ple con­sid­er as fixed.

Cog­ni­tive Reserve (or Brain Reserve): the­o­ry that address­es the fact that indi­vid­u­als vary con­sid­er­ably in the sever­i­ty of cog­ni­tive aging and clin­i­cal demen­tia. Men­tal stim­u­la­tion, edu­ca­tion and occu­pa­tion­al lev­el are believed to be major active com­po­nents of build­ing a cog­ni­tive reserve that can help resist the attacks of men­tal dis­ease.

fMRI: func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI) is a non-inva­sive neu­roimag­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Dana Alliance’s Brain Awareness Week for Brain Health

The Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives is keep­ing up its great out­reach ini­tia­tives:

1- Check their blog with posts such as Resolve to be good to your brain, too. Tip: “Brain change takes time; allow your brain time to get used to new cir­cum­stance” (from the Dana Guide to Brain Health). 

You can read our The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review.

2- The Brain Aware­ness Week 2007, March 12–18th, with many activ­i­ties around the world to “advance pub­lic aware­ness about the progress and ben­e­fits of brain research. The Dana Alliance is joined in the cam­paign by part­ners in the Unit­ed States and around the world, includ­ing med­ical and research orga­ni­za­tions; patient advo­ca­cy groups; the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health, and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies; ser­vice groups; hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties; K-12 schools; and pro­fes­sion­al orga­ni­za­tions.”

Learn how you can participate! 


Neuroscience and Psychology Blog Carnival: Encephalon #15

(Note: the fol­low­ing is inspired by real events but not quite. Car­o­line is a col­league, not my grand­ma!)

Over the week­end, I dropped by to say Hi to my grand­ma Car­oli­na, the Wise Neu­ro­sci­en­tist every fam­i­ly should have. She always helps me out. Imag­ine, then, my relief when she hap­pi­ly spent a few hours with me going over the print­ed sub­mis­sions for Encephalon #15. The con­ver­sa­tion went so well, that we are adding it to our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series on learn­ing and “brain gyms”.

Alvaro: Thanks again! I have heard organ­isms have some­thing called a bio­log­i­cal clock — what is that?

Car­oli­na: Accord­ing to Bora of A Blog Around The Clock, a bio­log­i­cal clock is a struc­ture that times reg­u­lar re-occur­rence of bio­chem­i­cal, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and behav­ioral events in an organ­ism in con­stant envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. The word “clock” is a metaphor, and the con­cept tries to exclude direct respons­es to the envi­ron­ment. Make sure to under­stand this prop­er­ly, oth­er­wise Bora sug­gests explain­ing it to you this way: “If I give you an elec­troshock every two hours, you will exhib­it a 2-hour cycle of convulsions…but that’s not a bio­log­i­cal clock”.

Alvaro: Crys­tal clear. Hmmm, I am think­ing of noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar right now, my mind wan­ders, like a riv­er stream…what may be hap­pen­ing in my brain?

Car­oli­na: Noth­ing spe­cial, as The Neu­r­o­crit­ic seems to argue in his series Default Mode or Detri­tus?, Day­dream­ing and Thought-Sam­pling, and Resist­ing a rest­ing state. Don’t be eas­i­ly seduced by sexy neu­roimag­ing into believ­ing that “default” con­sti­tutes some kind of base­line.

Alvaro: I wouldn’t dare do so, by no means. Read the rest of this entry »

TIME Magazine — A User Guide to the Brain

We announced last week the CBS News/TIME Series on Brain Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and Mem­o­ry Exer­cis­es. 

Now, Time Mag­a­zine has pub­lished a spec­tac­u­lar spe­cial issue with many good brain-relat­ed arti­cles. Enjoy TIME Mag­a­zine — A User Guide to the Brain.


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