Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Cognitive Fitness and Brain Improvement: 10 Debunked Myths

Over the last year we have inter­viewed a num­ber of lead­ing brain health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and prac­ti­tion­ers world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have news to report.

What can we say today that we couldn’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­a­go Ramon ySantiago Ramon y Cajal Cajal claimed in the XX cen­tu­ry, “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”, may well become real­i­ty in the XXI. And influ­ence Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process.

We have only scratched the sur­face of what sci­ence-based struc­tured cog­ni­tive (i.e., men­tal) exer­cise can do for brain health and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. We are now wit­ness­ing the birth of a new indus­try that cross­es tra­di­tion­al sec­tor bound­aries and that may help us under­stand, assess and train our brains, har­ness­ing the grow­ing research about neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons), neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence), cog­ni­tive train­ing and emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion.

Let’s now debunk 10 myths, still too preva­lent, that may pre­vent us from see­ing the full poten­tial of this emerg­ing field:

Myth 1: It’s all in our genes.

Real­i­ty: A big com­po­nent of our life­long brain health and devel­op­ment depends on what we do with our brains. Our own actions, not only our genes, influ­ence our lives to a large extent. Genes pre­dis­pose us, not deter­mine our fates.

Indi­vid­u­als who lead men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s. Stud­ies sug­gest that they have 35–40% less risk of man­i­fest­ing the dis­ease” — Dr. Yaakov Stern, Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty.

Myth 2: The field of Cognitive/ Brain Fit­ness is too new to be cred­i­ble.

Real­i­ty: The field rests on sol­id foun­da­tions dat­ing back more decades — what is new is the num­ber and range of tools that are now start­ing to be avail­able for healthy indi­vid­u­als.

Rig­or­ous and tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive train­ing has been used in clin­i­cal prac­tice for many years. Exer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies.” — Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, Frontal Lobes fMRIclin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of Alexan­der Luria.

Today, thanks to fMRI and oth­er neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, we are start­ing to under­stand the impact our actions can have on spe­cif­ic parts of the brain.” — Dr. Judith Beck, Direc­tor of the Beck Insti­tute for Cog­ni­tive Ther­a­py and Research.

Myth 3: Med­ica­tion is and will remain the only evi­dence-based inter­ven­tion for a num­ber of brain-relat­ed prob­lems.

Real­i­ty: Cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams are start­ing to Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Development and Brain Research: Articles, Books, Papers (ASA)

brain fitness eventWe had a very fun ses­sion titled Teach­ing Brain Fit­ness in Your Com­mu­ni­ty at an Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging (ASA) con­fer­ence for health pro­fes­sion­als a cou­ple of weeks ago. Full house, with over 60 atten­dants and very good par­tic­i­pa­tion, show­ing great inter­est in the top­ic. I can’t wait to see the eval­u­a­tions.

These are some of the resources I promised as a fol­low-up, which can be use­ful to every­one inter­est­ed in our field:

Good gen­er­al arti­cles in the busi­ness and gen­er­al media:

Change or Die

Want a sharp mind for your gold­en years? Start now

You’re Wis­er Now

On how new neu­rons are born and grow in the adult brain:

Salk Sci­en­tists Demon­strate For The First Time That New­ly Born Brain Cells Are Func­tion­al In The Adult Brain

Old Brains, New Tricks

On the sur­pris­ing plas­tic­i­ty and devel­op­ment poten­tial through­out life:

Brain Plas­tic­i­ty, Lan­guage Pro­cess­ing and Read­ing

Jug­gling Jug­gles the Brain

Suc­cess­ful Aging of the Healthy Brain

Oth­er impor­tant aspects:

Stress and the Brain

Exer­cise and the Brain

Humor, Laugh­ter and The Brain

On the impor­tance and impact of men­tal stim­u­la­tion and train­ing: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Teasers and Games for the Brain: Test your Brain

Frontal LobesIt is always good to stim­u­late our minds and to learn a bit about how our brains work. Here you have a selec­tion of the 50 Brain Teasers that peo­ple have enjoyed the most in our blog and speak­ing engage­ments.

Fun exper­i­ments on how our brains work

1. Do you think you know the col­ors?: try the Stroop Test.

2. Can you count?: Bas­ket­ball atten­tion exper­i­ment (Inter­ac­tive).

3. Who is this?: A very impor­tant lit­tle guy (Inter­ac­tive).

4. How is this pos­si­ble?.

5. Take the Sens­es Chal­lenge (Inter­ac­tive).

6. Are there more brain con­nec­tions or leaves in the Ama­zon?.

Atten­tionTwo In One Task

7. How are your divid­ed atten­tion skills? check out “Inside and Out­side” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit).

8. Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? try “Two in One” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit)

9. Count the Fs in this sen­tence.

10. What do you see? can you alter­nate between 2 views?.

Mem­o­ryPicasso Task

11. Easy one…draw the face of a pen­ny, please. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dana Guide to Brain Health and Brain Research

Dana Press kind­ly sent us a cou­ple of books. One of them, The Dana Guide to Brain Health: A Prac­ti­cal Fam­i­ly Ref­er­ence From Med­ical Experts, is our top­ic today.

We are impressed by what Dana is doing to insert neu­ro­science find­ings and impli­ca­tions into the pub­lic dis­course.

No big sur­prise then, to find out so much qual­i­ty con­tent inside a 700-page one-of-a-kind guide, some of it, inci­den­tal­ly, pro­vid­ed by Dr. Gold­berg, our Chief Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­sor.

The guide is real­ly 4 books inside a com­mon bind­ing. Priced at a rea­son­able lev­el, and with superb in-depth text and images in all rel­e­vant areas, the book can be used as a 1) Brain 101 tuto­r­i­al, 2) brief sum­ma­ry of the basics of Brain Care and Well­ness, 3) descrip­tion of the stages of brain devel­op­ment, 4) ref­er­ence guide for around 70 brain-relat­ed con­di­tions. In my per­son­al opin­ion, every neu­ro­science, med­ical and psy­chol­o­gy stu­dent, clin­i­cian and researcher should have this book in their hands to keep abreast of many recent devel­op­ments, and also be exposed to pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment cours­es based on it. Many fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als inter­est­ed in the brain should con­sid­er buy­ing it too.

Giv­en the focus of our blog-brain fit­ness for healthy indi­vid­u­als-, we par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the sec­tions Read the rest of this entry »

What are Cognitive Abilities and Skills, and How to Boost Them?

learn about cognitive abilityFirst of all, what is cog­ni­tion? Cog­ni­tion has to do with how a per­son under­stands the world and acts in it. It is the set of men­tal abil­i­ties or process­es that are part of near­ly every human action while we are awake.

Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are brain-based skills we need to car­ry out any task from the sim­plest to the most com­plex. They have more to do with the mech­a­nisms of how we learn, remem­ber, prob­lem-solve, and pay atten­tion, rather than with any actu­al knowl­edge. For instance, answer­ing the tele­phone involves per­cep­tion (hear­ing the ring tone), deci­sion tak­ing (answer­ing or not), motor skill (lift­ing the receiv­er), lan­guage skills (talk­ing and under­stand­ing lan­guage), social skills (inter­pret­ing tone of voice and inter­act­ing prop­er­ly with anoth­er human being).

Cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties or skills are sup­port­ed by spe­cif­ic neu­ronal net­works. For instance mem­o­ry skills rely main­ly on parts of the tem­po­ral lobes and parts of the frontal lobes (behind the fore­head).

In the table below, you can browse through the main brain func­tions involved in cog­ni­tion. You will also find brain teasers that will help you exer­cise the cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties described. I hope you enjoy it…and have fun!

COGNITIVE ABILITIES ARE BRAINS FUNCTIONS

Cog­ni­tive Ability/Brain Func­tion
Skills involved

Per­cep­tion

Recog­ni­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of sen­so­ry stim­uli (smell, touch, hear­ing, etc.)

Brain teasers:

Atten­tion

Abil­i­ty to sus­tain con­cen­tra­tion on a par­tic­u­lar object, action, or thought, and abil­i­ty to man­age com­pet­ing demands in our envi­ron­ment.
Brain chal­lenges:

Mem­o­ry

Short-ter­m/ work­ing mem­o­ry (lim­it­ed stor­age), and Long-term mem­o­ry (unlim­it­ed stor­age).
Brain teas­er:

Motor skills

Abil­i­ty to mobi­lize our mus­cles and bod­ies, and abil­i­ty to manip­u­late objects.

Brain chal­lenges:

  • Tap your right hand on the table. At the same time, make a cir­cu­lar move­ment with  your left hand (as if you were clean­ing the table)
  • Do the same, switch­ing hands

Lan­guage

Skills allow­ing us to trans­late sounds into words and gen­er­ate ver­bal out­put.

Brain teas­er:

Visu­al and Spa­tial Pro­cess­ing

Abil­i­ty to process incom­ing visu­al stim­uli, to under­stand spa­tial rela­tion­ship between objects, and to visu­al­ize images and sce­nar­ios.

Brain teas­er:

Exec­u­tive Func­tions

Abil­i­ties that enable goal-ori­ent­ed behav­ior, such as the abil­i­ty to plan, and exe­cute a goal. These include:
Flex­i­bil­i­ty: the capac­i­ty for quick­ly switch­ing to the appro­pri­ate men­tal mode.
The­o­ry of mind: insight into oth­er people’s inner world, their plans, their likes and dis­likes.
Antic­i­pa­tion: pre­dic­tion based on pat­tern recog­ni­tion.
Prob­lem-solv­ing: defin­ing the prob­lem in the right way to then gen­er­ate solu­tions and pick the right one.
Deci­sion mak­ing: the abil­i­ty to make deci­sions based on prob­lem-solv­ing, on incom­plete infor­ma­tion and on emo­tions (ours and oth­ers’).
Work­ing Mem­o­ry: the capac­i­ty to hold and manip­u­late infor­ma­tion “on-line” in real time.
Emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion: the abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy and man­age one’s own emo­tions for good per­for­mance.
Sequenc­ing: the abil­i­ty to break down com­plex actions into man­age­able units and pri­or­i­tize them in the right order.
Inhi­bi­tion: the abil­i­ty to with­stand dis­trac­tion, and inter­nal urges.Brain teasers:

.

COGNITIVE ABILITIES ARE NOT FIXED — WE CAN IMPROVE THEM VIA LIFESTYLE AND TARGETED PRACTICE

With age, some cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties tend to decline, espe­cial­ly the so-called exec­u­tive func­tions, and those cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties that are not used reg­u­lar­ly. For­tu­nate­ly, grow­ing evi­dence shows that decline can be delayed with appro­pri­ate lifestyle options and prac­tices. Here are some resources to guide you as you look for ways to boost your cog­ni­tive func­tions:

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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