Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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 »

Top 10 Brain Training Trends — Putting our Cognitive Reserve to Work

Yes­ter­day I had the chance to chat with Yaakov Stern, lead­ing Cog­ni­tive Reserve researcher at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, and then with a group of 25 life­long learn­ers in Ari­zona who attend­ed a brain fit­ness class (hel­lo, Robert and friends!) based on our con­sumer guide The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness. On reflec­tion, I found both con­ver­sa­tions to be very stim­u­lat­ing for the same rea­son: they were for­ward-look­ing, focused not so much on sta­tus quo but on how emerg­ing research, tech­nol­o­gy and trends may impact our soci­ety and lives in years to come. Let’s con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion. Let me share the 10 main trends that we analyzed/ fore­cast­ed in our book, and then ask you, sharp read­ers, to add your own 2 cents to the dis­cus­sion. Read the rest of this entry »

Computerized cognitive training may help reduce falls among elderly

Brain fit­ness pro­grams may help weak elder­ly walk faster (press release)

A study led by researchers at Albert Ein­stein Col­lege of Med­i­cine of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty has found pre­lim­i­nary evi­dence that brain fit­ness pro­grams may help frail elder­ly walk faster, poten­tial­ly pre­vent­ing dis­abil­i­ty and improv­ing qual­i­ty of life.

For walk­ing while talk­ing — which requires con­sid­er­ably more con­cen­tra­tion than nor­mal walk­ing — the seniors who took com­put­er train­ing notably improved com­pared with their ini­tial speeds. By con­trast, no improve­ment in walk­ing speed was observed for the con­trol group.

Maintain Your Brain and Stay Sharp: An Upcoming Guide and Resource

You may be read­ing all about brain fit­ness and brain train­ing. It seems every week brings a new bar­rage of arti­cles and stud­ies which often con­tra­dict what you read the month before: Does Gingko Bilo­ba help delay Alzheimer’s Dis­ease? Can phys­i­cal exer­cise help you stay sharp as you age? Which com­put­er-based “brain fit­ness pro­grams”, if any, are worth your mon­ey?

All this cov­er­age reflects very excit­ing sci­en­tif­ic find­ings but also pos­es a key dilem­ma: How to become an informed life­long learn­er and con­sumer when there are few and con­tra­dic­to­ry author­i­ta­tive guide­lines?

The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (to be pub­lished in May 2009; $24.95) aims to fill that void. This guide is the result of over a year of exten­sive research includ­ing more than a hun­dred inter­views with sci­en­tists, pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers, and a deep lit­er­a­ture review. Below you have some of the main find­ings from our effort. The guide not only cov­ers these aspects in more depth and offers prac­ti­cal guid­ance, but also includes 18 inter­views with promi­nent sci­en­tists to help you under­stand the research bet­ter.

Can we intro­duce you to your Brain?

The Guide will start at the obvi­ous start­ing point: The Human Brain. In order to make informed deci­sions about brain health, one needs to first under­stand the basic orga­ni­za­tion of the human brain and how it tends to change as we get old­er.

* The brain is com­posed of a num­ber of regions serv­ing dis­tinct func­tions. For­get IQ: our life and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one.

* There is noth­ing inher­ent­ly fixed in the tra­jec­to­ry of how brain func­tions evolve as we age. Your lifestyle, actions, and even thoughts, do mat­ter.

The 4 Pil­lars of Brain Main­te­nance

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is the life­long capac­i­ty of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stim­u­la­tion of learn­ing and expe­ri­ence. The lat­est sci­en­tif­ic research shows that spe­cif­ic lifestyles and actions can, no mat­ter our age, improve the health and lev­el of func­tion­ing of our brains.

What fac­tors seem to have the most influ­ence? Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health News: Top Articles and Resources in March

There’s such a flood of very sig­nif­i­cant research stud­ies, edu­ca­tion­al resources and arti­cles relat­ed to brain health, it’s hard to keep track — even for us!

Let me intro­duce and quote some of the top Brain Health Stud­ies, Arti­cles and Resources pub­lished in March:

1) Cog­ni­tive Decline Begins In Late 20s, Study Sug­gests (Sci­ence Dai­ly)

- “These pat­terns sug­gest that some types of men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty decrease rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly in adult­hood, but that how much knowl­edge one has, and the effec­tive­ness of inte­grat­ing it with one’s abil­i­ties, may increase through­out all of adult­hood if there are no patho­log­i­cal dis­eases,” Salt­house said.

- How­ev­er, Salt­house points out that there is a great deal of vari­ance from per­son to per­son

2) Cere­brum 2009: Emerg­ing Ideas in Brain Sci­ence — new book by the Dana Foun­da­tion that “explores the cut­ting edge of brain research and its impli­ca­tions in our every­day lives, in lan­guage under­stand­able to the gen­er­al read­er.”

A cou­ple of excel­lent chap­ters of direct rel­e­vance to every­one’s brain health are:
— Chap­ter 4: A Road Paved by Rea­son, by Eliz­a­beth Nor­ton Lasley

- Chap­ter 10: Neur­al Health: Is It Facil­i­tat­ed by Work Force Par­tic­i­pa­tion?, by Denise Park, Ph.D

3) Stay­ing Sharp DVD Pro­gram: “Dr. Jor­dan Graf­man, chief of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Sec­tion at the Nation­al Insti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders and Stroke out­side of Wash­ing­ton, DC, and a mem­ber of the Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives, is your guide as we cov­er what to expect from the aging brain and what we can do to ‘stay sharp.’

For a free DVD of this pro­gram you can con­tact stayingsharp@dana.org. (they say free in their web­site, I don’t know if that includes ship­ping & han­dling)

4) Dri­vers to be test­ed on cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty start­ing at age 75 (Japan Times)

The out­line of a cog­ni­tive test that dri­vers aged 75 or over will be required to take from June when renew­ing their licens­es was released Thursday…The test is intend­ed to reduce the num­ber of traf­fic acci­dents involv­ing elder­ly dri­vers by mea­sur­ing their cog­ni­tive lev­el.

5) Phys­i­cal Fit­ness Improves Spa­tial Mem­o­ry, Increas­es Size Of Brain Struc­ture (Sci­ence Dai­ly)

- “Now researchers have found that elder­ly adults who are more phys­i­cal­ly fit tend to have big­ger hip­pocampi and bet­ter spa­tial mem­o­ry than those who are less fit.”

6) Brain Train­ers: A Work­out for the Mind (Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can Mind)

I recent­ly tried out eight of the lat­est brain fit­ness pro­grams, train­ing with each for a week. The pro­grams ranged wide­ly in focus, qual­i­ty and how fun they were to use. “Like phys­i­cal exer­cise equip­ment, a brain exer­cise pro­gram does­n’t do you any good if you don’t use it, says Andrew J. Car­le, direc­tor of the Pro­gram in Assist­ed Living/Senior Hous­ing Admin­is­tra­tion at George Mason Uni­ver­si­ty. And peo­ple tend not to use bor­ing equip­ment. “I remem­ber when Nor­dic­Track was the biggest thing out there. Every­one ran out and bought one, and 90 per­cent of them end­ed up as a clothes rack in the back of your bed­room.

The reporter used: Posit Sci­ence’s Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram Clas­sic, Hap­pyNeu­ron, Nin­ten­do BrainAge, Cog­niFit’s MindFit/ Cog­niFit Per­son­al Coach, Lumos­i­ty, MyBrain­Train­er, Brain­Twister, Cogmed Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing.

7) The Lat­est in Men­tal Health: Work­ing Out at the ‘Brain Gym’ (Wall Street Jour­nal)

- “Mar­shall Kahn, an 82-year-old fam­i­ly doc­tor in Fuller­ton, Calif., says he got such a boost from brain exer­cis­es he start­ed doing at a “Nifty after Fifty” club that he decid­ed to start see­ing patients again part-time. “Doing all the men­tal exer­cise,” he says, “I real­ized I’ve still got it.”

8) Debate Over Drugs For ADHD Reignites (Wash­ing­ton Post)

- “New data from a large fed­er­al study have reignit­ed a debate over the effec­tive­ness of long-term drug treat­ment of chil­dren with hyper­ac­tiv­i­ty or atten­tion-deficit dis­or­der, and have drawn accu­sa­tions that some mem­bers of the research team have sought to play down evi­dence that med­ica­tions do lit­tle good beyond 24 months.”

- “The study also indi­cat­ed that long-term use of the drugs can stunt chil­dren’s growth.”

8) Adap­tive train­ing leads to sus­tained enhance­ment of poor work­ing mem­o­ry in chil­dren (Devel­op­men­tal Sci­ence)

Abstract: Work­ing mem­o­ry plays a cru­cial role in sup­port­ing learn­ing, with poor progress in read­ing and math­e­mat­ics char­ac­ter­iz­ing chil­dren with low mem­o­ry skills. This study inves­ti­gat­ed whether these prob­lems can be over­come by a train­ing pro­gram designed to boost work­ing mem­o­ry. Chil­dren with low work­ing mem­o­ry skills were assessed on mea­sures of work­ing mem­o­ry, IQ and aca­d­e­m­ic attain­ment before and after train­ing on either adap­tive or non-adap­tive ver­sions of the pro­gram. Adap­tive train­ing that taxed work­ing mem­o­ry to its lim­its was asso­ci­at­ed with sub­stan­tial and sus­tained gains in work­ing mem­o­ry, with age-appro­pri­ate lev­els achieved by the major­i­ty of chil­dren. Math­e­mat­i­cal abil­i­ty also improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly 6 months fol­low­ing adap­tive train­ing. These find­ings indi­cate that com­mon impair­ments in work­ing mem­o­ry and asso­ci­at­ed learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties may be over­come with this behav­ioral treat­ment.

9) Brain cor­tex thin­ning linked to inher­it­ed depres­sion (Los Ange­les Times)

- “On aver­age, peo­ple with a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of depres­sion appear to have brains that are 28% thin­ner in the right cor­tex — the out­er­most lay­er of the brain — than those with no known fam­i­ly his­to­ry of the dis­ease. That cor­ti­cal thin­ning, said the researchers, is on a scale sim­i­lar to that seen in patients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease or schiz­o­phre­nia.”

About SharpBrains

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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