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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Michael Merzenich: Brain Plasticity offers Hope for Everyone

What­ev­er you strug­gle with in a sense as it stems from your neu­rol­o­gy, the inher­ent plas­tic­i­ty of the brain gives you a basis for improve­ment. This is a way under­uti­lized and under-appre­ci­at­ed resource that well all have.” Dr. Michael Merzenich on the Brain Sci­ence Pod­cast #54, 2/13/09.

Recent­ly there has been grow­ing con­tro­ver­sy about the effec­tive­ness of com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams. As a co-founder of Posit Sci­ence, Inc. Dr. Michael Merzenich is a staunch defend­er of the meth­ods his com­pa­ny uses to val­i­date the pro­grams that they have devel­oped. But for the pur­pos­es of this essay, I want to share some of the key ideas we dis­cussed dur­ing his recent inter­view on the Brain Sci­ence Pod­cast.

First of all, I asked him to dis­cuss some of the high­lights of his long career. Since he was one of the first neu­ro­sci­en­tists to embrace the con­cepts of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty I was curi­ous about how this came about. While he did have some expo­sure to the ani­mal evi­dence as a grad­u­ate stu­dent, it was actu­al­ly his expe­ri­ence with the inven­tion of the cochlear implant that con­vinced Dr. Merzenich of the real-world, prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions of brain plas­tic­i­ty. The qual­i­ty of the Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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