Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Games for the Weekend: One for each Cognitive Ability

When I give a pre­sen­ta­tion about brain health and fit­ness, there are always a few peo­ple who come tell me after­ward that they do cross­word puz­zles every­day. They heard that men­tal exer­cise is good for the brain so they are pleased and proud to report that they do the best they can to main­tain their brain func­tions. But are they real­ly? What if I was a gym instruc­tor? Would the same peo­ple tell me proud­ly that to keep their whole body in shape they do biceps move­ments every­day, and that’s all they do? I DO feel like I was this gym instruc­tor when I hear the cross­word puz­zles claim! Solv­ing cross­word puz­zles repet­i­tive­ly is not the best habit for two rea­sons. Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive stimulation is beneficial, even after diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

An inter­est­ing arti­cle in Nature Reviews last month reviewed sev­er­al stud­ies show­ing that cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion can be ben­e­fi­cial even for indi­vid­u­als already diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease (Buschert et al., 2010).

The arti­cle shows that patients with mild-to-mod­er­ate demen­tia can ben­e­fit from a range of cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tions: from train­ing of par­tial­ly spared cog­ni­tive func­tions to train­ing on activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing. Results sug­gest that such inter­ven­tions can improve glob­al cog­ni­tion, abil­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing and qual­i­ty of life in these patients.

Patients with mod­er­ate-to-severe demen­tia seem to ben­e­fit from gen­er­al engage­ment in activ­i­ties that enhance cog­ni­tive and social func­tion­ing in a non-spe­cif­ic man­ner.

In gen­er­al, for patients diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, the reviewed stud­ies sug­gest that pro­grams focus­ing on glob­al cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion are more effec­tive than pro­grams that train spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tions.

The oppo­site seems true for peo­ple diag­nosed with Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment (MCI). As you may remem­ber, MCI diag­no­sis is made upon objec­tive mem­o­ry deficits that do not inter­fere with activ­i­ties of dai­ly liv­ing. 5 to 10% of peo­ple with MCI devel­op demen­tia with­in 1 year after being diag­nosed.

It is inter­est­ing to see that the type of cog­ni­tive inter­ven­tion one may ben­e­fit from changes over the years, depend­ing on one’s cog­ni­tive sta­tus. This shows once again that there is no gen­er­al mag­ic pill in terms of brain fit­ness: Some inter­ven­tions or pro­grams work because they meet the needs of some spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als. No pro­gram can work for every­body.

Read the rest of this entry »

Walking increases brain volume and reduces risks of decline

In the lat­est issue of Neu­rol­o­gy a study by Erick­son et al. (2010) sug­gests that walk­ing reg­u­lar­ly can increase brain vol­ume and reduce the risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impair­ment.

The researchers stared with 2 mains facts:

They asked 2 ques­tions:

  • Can phys­i­cal activ­i­ty assessed ear­li­er pre­dict gray mat­ter vol­ume 9 years lat­er?
  • Is greater gray mat­ter vol­ume asso­ci­at­ed with reduced risks of devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive impair­ment?

Read the rest of this entry »

Another victim of the BBC/Nature “brain training” experiment

Have you read the cov­er sto­ry of the New Sci­en­tist this week: Men­tal mus­cle: six ways to boost your brain?

The arti­cle, which includes good infor­ma­tion on brain food, the val­ue of med­i­ta­tion, etc., starts by say­ing that: “Brain train­ing does­n’t work, but there are lots of oth­er ways to give your grey mat­ter a quick boost.” Fur­ther in the arti­cle you can read “… brain train­ing soft­ware has now been con­signed to the shelf of tech­nolo­gies that failed to live up to expec­ta­tions.”

Such claims are based on the one study wide­ly pub­li­cized ear­li­er this year: the BBC “brain train­ing” exper­i­ment, pub­lished by Owen et al. (2010) in Nature.

What hap­pened to the sci­en­tif­ic rig­or asso­ci­at­ed with the New Sci­en­tist?

As expressed in one of our pre­vi­ous posts: “Once more, claims seem to go beyond the sci­ence back­ing them up … except that in this case it is the researchers, not the devel­op­ers, who are respon­si­ble.” (See BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly).

Read our two pre­vi­ous posts to get to the heart of the BBC study and what it real­ly means. As Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Zelin­s­ki explore the poten­tial sci­en­tif­ic flaws of the study, they both point out that there are very promis­ing pub­lished exam­ples of brain train­ing method­olo­gies that seem to work.

BBC “Brain Train­ing” Exper­i­ment: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Sci­en­tif­ic cri­tique of BBC/ Nature Brain Train­ing Exper­i­ment

Brain Teaser: Test your mental rotation skills

Are you famil­iar with men­tal rota­tion? It refers to mov­ing things around in your head. It is one of the numer­ous visu­ospa­tial skills that we all have.

Let’s take an exam­ple. Can you pic­ture in your head an arrow point­ing to the right? Now, turn this arrow so it points to the left. Done? You have just per­formed a men­tal rota­tion. Although it is rare to con­scious­ly imag­ine objects mov­ing, peo­ple auto­mat­i­cal­ly use this abil­ity when they read maps, use tools, play chess, arrange fur­ni­ture, dri­ve in traf­fic, etc.

Men­tal rota­tion relies most­ly on the pari­etal areas of your brain (yel­low sec­tion in the brain image above).

Here is a brain exer­cise to stim­u­late your men­tal rota­tion skills.

  • The top shape is your mod­el.
  • Among the 3 shapes below the mod­el, only one match­es the mod­el. To fig­ure out which one does you will prob­a­bly have to move the shapes around in your head.
  • Move the shapes from left to right or right to left but DO NOT FLIP them around.

First set

Sec­ond set

Third Set

To see the cor­rect answers click here: Read the rest of this entry »

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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