Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Workouts at the (New Yorker) brain gym

NewYorkerGood arti­cle on brain fit­ness and applied neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty in the July 29th edi­tion of The New York­er, fea­tur­ing many Sharp­Brains friends. Men­tal­ly fit — Work­outs at the brain gym:

As recent­ly as a few decades ago, most biol­o­gists thought that the brain was ful­ly formed dur­ing child­hood and, like a pho­to­graph after it’s been devel­oped, was doomed to degrade there­after, with neu­rons (nerve cells) fad­ing like pig­ment on paper until you suc­cumbed to senil­i­ty. Today, we regard Alzheimer’s and oth­er demen­tias as dis­eases, rather than as a con­se­quence of nor­mal aging. More­over, we now con­sid­er the brain to be as labile as a dig­i­tal image in the hands of a Pho­to­shop fiend…Not only does the brain have a life­long abil­i­ty to cre­ate new neu­rons; like a gov­ern­ment with an unlim­it­ed high­way bud­get, it has an end­less capac­i­ty to build new roadways…The abil­i­ty of the brain to estab­lish new con­nec­tions is called plas­tic­i­ty, and brain-fit­ness exer­cis­es are pred­i­cat­ed on this mechanism…That’s enough sci­ence for now. Let’s get back to me. . . .”

Do you believe these neuromyths? Do we only use 10% of our brain?

brain myths and facts

Cour­tesy of the recent study Neu­romyths in edu­ca­tion: Preva­lence and pre­dic­tors of mis­con­cep­tions among teach­ers, by Sanne Dekker et al, here you have 32 brain-relat­ed state­ments. Are they cor­rect or incor­rect?

  1. We use our brains 24 h a day (C ).
  2. Chil­dren must acquire their native lan­guage before a sec­ond lan­guage is learned. If they do not do so nei­ther lan­guage will be ful­ly acquired (I).
  3. Boys have big­ger brains than girls (C ). Read the rest of this entry »

Why Agile Minds Deploy Both Rational and Intuitive Problem-Solving

A rare aha moment in 2011 set me chas­ing new prob­lem-solv­ing research. The study Ratio­nal Ver­sus Intu­itive Prob­lem-Solv­ing: How Think­ing ‘Off the Beat­en Path’ Can Stim­u­late Cre­ativ­i­ty pub­lished in Psy­chol­o­gy of Aes­thet­ics, Cre­ativ­i­ty, and the Arts stung me out of a spot of intel­lec­tu­al arro­gance. From my per­spec­tive, John Dewey’s 19th cen­tu­ry step-wise Read the rest of this entry »

Transcript: Online Q&A on the Future of Brain Health with Alvaro Fernandez

Below you can find the full tran­script of our engag­ing Q&A ses­sion today, Fri­day March 16th, on brain sus­tain­abil­i­ty, retool­ing brain health, and applied neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, with Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, Sharp­Brains’ Co-Founder who’s just been named a Young Glob­al Leader by the World Eco­nom­ic Forum. You can learn more about the top­ic by read­ing this 2011 Sharp­Brains Sum­mit Meet­ing Report and this Info­graph­ic.

10:04
Great, we are ready to start!  Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers

Dr. Michael Merzenich Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at UCSF, is a lead­ing pio­neer in brain plas­tic­i­ty research. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invent­ed the cochlear implant. In 1996, he was the found­ing CEO of Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (Nas­daq: SCIL), and in 2004 became co-founder and Chief Sci­en­tif­ic Offi­cer of Posit Sci­ence. He was elect­ed to the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in 1999 and to the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine this year. He retired as Fran­cis A. Sooy Pro­fes­sor and Co-Direc­tor of the Keck Cen­ter for Inte­gra­tive Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cis­co in 2007. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV spe­cials, mul­ti­ple media appear­ances, or neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-relat­ed books.

(Alvaro Fer­nan­dez) Dear Michael, thank you very much for agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the inau­gur­al Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit in Jan­u­ary, and for your time today. In order to con­tex­tu­al­ize the Sum­mit’s main themes, I would like to focus this inter­view on the like­ly big-pic­ture impli­ca­tions dur­ing the next 5 years of your work and that of oth­er neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty research and indus­try pio­neers.

Thank you for invit­ing me. I believe the Sharp­Brains Sum­mit will be very use­ful and stim­u­lat­ing, you are gath­er­ing an impres­sive group togeth­er. I am look­ing for­ward to Jan­u­ary.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-based Tools: The New Health & Well­ness Fron­tier

There are many dif­fer­ent tech­nol­o­gy-free approach­es to harnessing/ enabling/ dri­ving neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty. What is the val­ue that tech­nol­o­gy brings to the cog­ni­tive health table?

It’s all about effi­cien­cy, scal­a­bil­i­ty, per­son­al­iza­tion, and assured effec­tive­ness. Tech­nol­o­gy sup­ports the imple­men­ta­tion of near-opti­mal­ly-effi­cient brain-train­ing strate­gies. Through the Inter­net, it enables the low-cost dis­tri­b­u­tion of these new tools, any­where out in the world. Tech­nol­o­gy also enables the per­son­al­iza­tion of brain health train­ing, by pro­vid­ing sim­ple ways to mea­sure and address indi­vid­ual needs in each per­son­’s brain-health train­ing expe­ri­ence. It enables assess­ments of your abil­i­ties that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effec­tive­ly addressed.

Of course sub­stan­tial gains could also be achieved by orga­niz­ing your every­day activ­i­ties that grow your neu­ro­log­i­cal abil­i­ties and sus­tain your brain health. Still, if the ordi­nary cit­i­zen is to have any real chance of main­tain­ing their brain fit­ness, they’re going to have to spend con­sid­er­able time at the brain gym!

One espe­cial­ly impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy is the scal­a­bil­i­ty that it pro­vides for deliv­er­ing brain fit­ness help out into the world. Think about how effi­cient the drug deliv­ery sys­tem is today. Doc­tors pre­scribe drugs, insur­ance cov­ers them, and there is a drug store in every neigh­bor­hood in almost every city in the world so that every patient has access to them. Once neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-based tools and out­comes and stan­dard­ized, we can envi­sion a sim­i­lar sce­nario. And we don’t need all those drug stores, because we have the Inter­net!

Hav­ing said this, there are obvi­ous obsta­cles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of under­stand­ing of what these new tools can do. Cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams, for exam­ple, seem counter-intu­itive to con­sumers and many pro­fes­sion­als “ why would one try to improve speed-of-pro­cess­ing if all one cares about is mem­o­ry? A sec­ond obvi­ous prob­lem is to get indi­vid­u­als to buy into the effort required to real­ly change their brains for the bet­ter. That buy-in has been achieved for many indi­vid­u­als as it applies to their phys­i­cal health, but we haven’t got­ten that far yet in edu­cat­ing the aver­age old­er per­son that brain fit­ness train­ing is an equal­ly effort­ful busi­ness!

Tools for Safer Dri­ving: Teens and Adults

Safe dri­ving seems to be one area where the ben­e­fits are more intu­itive, which may explain the sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion.

Yes, we see great poten­tial and inter­est among insur­ers for improv­ing dri­ving safe­ty, both for seniors and teens. Appro­pri­ate cog­ni­tive train­ing can low­er at-fault acci­dent rates. You can mea­sure clear ben­e­fits in rel­a­tive­ly short time frames, so it won’t take long for insur­ers to see an eco­nom­ic ratio­nale to not only offer pro­grams at low cost or for free but to incen­tivize dri­vers to com­plete them. All­state, AAA, State Farm and oth­er insur­ers are begin­ning to real­ize this poten­tial. It is impor­tant to note that typ­i­cal acci­dents among teens and seniors are dif­fer­ent, so that train­ing method­olo­gies will need to be dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent high-risk pop­u­la­tions.

Yet, most dri­ving safe­ty ini­tia­tives today still focus on edu­cat­ing dri­vers, rather that train­ing them neu­ro­log­i­cal­ly. We mea­sure vision, for exam­ple, but com­plete­ly ignore atten­tion­al con­trol abil­i­ties, or a dri­ver’s use­ful field of view. I expect this to change sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the next few years.

Long-term care and health insur­ance com­pa­nies will ulti­mate­ly see sim­i­lar ben­e­fits, and we believe that they will fol­low a sim­i­lar course of action to reduce gen­er­al med­ical and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease- (Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkin­sons-) relat­ed costs. In fact, many senior liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties are among the pio­neers in this field.

Boomers & Beyond: Main­tain­ing Cog­ni­tive Vital­i­ty

Main­stream media is cov­er­ing this emerg­ing cat­e­go­ry with thou­sands of sto­ries. But most cov­er­age seems still focused on does it work? more than “how do we define It”, what does work mean? or work for whom, and for what? Can you sum­ma­rize what recent research sug­gests?

We have seen clear pat­terns in the appli­ca­tion of our train­ing pro­grams, some pub­lished (like IMPACT), some unpub­lished, some with healthy adults, and some with peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment or ear­ly Alzheimers Dis­ease (AD). What we see in every case: Read the rest of this entry »

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