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 more…] about Top 10 Brain Training Trends — Putting our Cognitive Reserve to Work
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.
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 more…] about Maintain Your Brain and Stay Sharp: An Upcoming Guide and Resource
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 email@example.com. (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.”
As the Brain Fitness industry continues to gain momentum, and people explore all the incredible brain-training tools being developed, we hope that enthusiasts don’t take their eye off the importance of the physical health of the brain and all the systems it communicates with. The brain is unique in that it houses our cognitive and emotional capacities in the form of the mind. It is a ‘cognitive’ organ that hungers for stimulation from new experiences and challenges. Many brain fitness programs strive to satisfy this need. Yet the brain is also a physical organ that plays by many of the same rules as the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. To stay healthy and perform optimally it requires quality nutrition, physical activity and optimal sleep. The brain, especially, relies on a healthy vascular system to efficiently deliver oxygen and key nutrients and remove waste. In fact, the brain uses approximately 20% of the oxygen we breathe to satisfy its high-energy demands. Given that the brain only weighs about 2% of the body, we can consider it an energy hog and we must cater to its needs very carefully.
Nutrients play key roles in brain function. Several have shown efficacy in clinical trials treating cases of mood disorders, cognitive decline and of course benefiting the physical health of the brain. Nutrients are both the raw materials employed in creating new neural connections and [Read more…] about A User’s Guide to Lifelong Brain Health: BrainFit for Life
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Quick, Are videogames good or bad?
That’s an impossible question. Good or bad for what? What specific games are we talking about? More importantly, what are they substituting for, given time is a limited resource? Contributor Jeremy Adam Smith, managing director of Greater Good magazine, offers an in-depth review on the trade-offs videogames present in: Playing the Blame Game.
Math Innovation in UK Schools: a recent (and unpublished) study seems to support the potential role for “Serious Games” in education. Learning and Teaching Scotland reports significant improvements in pupils’ concentration and behavior, on top of math skills, after using Nintendo Brain Training game.
More September News: September has brought a wealth of additional worldwide media coverage on cognitive health and brain fitness topics, including the role of schools in nurturing student’s executive functions, the importance of baseline neuropsychological testing in sports, the need for gerontology as a discipline to incorporate brain research, how walking can enhance brain function, and the value of brain fitness programs for long-term care operators.
Wellness Coaching for Brain Health and Fitness: will Wellness Coaches expand their role and become “Brain coaches”? We have partnered with Sutter Health Partners, the pioneering coaching group of a major health system, to train their wellness coaches on the implications of emerging brain research for their work: focus on the 4 pillars of brain health ‑balanced nutrition, physical exercise, stress management and mental exercise.
Evaluation Checklist for Organizations: many healthcare and education organizations are already making purchase decisions which involve evaluating different programs that make “brain training” or “cognitive health” claims. Here we present our 10-Question SharpBrains Checklist to help organizations make informed decisions.
Evaluation Checklist for Consumers: if you are an individual interested in programs for yourself and/ or a loved one, you can use this checklist. The starting point is to recognize that no program is a “magic pill” or “general solution”, but a tool to be used in the appropriate context.
Learning to Lead, and To Think
Roundtable on Human Resources and Leadership: several bloggers discuss latest news around leadership, social intelligence, applications of brain research, and more.
Helping Young and Old Fish Learn How To Think: David Foster Wallace gave a masterful commencement speech on Life and Work to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. Worth reading, with full attention.
Seven Brain teasers for Job Interviews: A recent CNN article explains why a growing number of technology and consulting companies use brain teasers and logic puzzles of a type called “guesstimations” during job interviews. What are they looking for? Good executive functions. Here you have a few typical questions.