Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Debunking 10 Cognitive Health and Fitness Myths

As part of the research behind the book The Sharp­Brains Guide for Brain Fit­ness we inter­viewed dozens of lead­ing cog­ni­tive health and fit­ness sci­en­tists and experts world­wide to learn about their research and thoughts, and have a num­ber of take-aways to report.

What Santiago Ramon y Cajal can we clear­ly say today that we could­n’t have said only 10 years ago? That what neu­ro­science pio­neer San­ti­a­go Ramon y 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 trans­form Edu­ca­tion, Health, Train­ing, and Gam­ing in the process, since 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 »

Brain Fitness Software and Training Games

Unless you have been liv­ing in a cave, you have read by now mul­ti­ple arti­cles about the brain train­ing and brain exer­cise craze: sudoku, Nin­ten­do BrainAge, mul­ti­ple online games, soft­ware like Mind­Fit and Posit Sci­ence…

If you are look­ing for some fun men­tal stim­u­la­tion now, here you have our selec­tion of Brain Teasers.

Now, how do you know which of the new pro­grams can help you more, or whether you need any of them? which ones are sim­ply enter­tain­ing Games vs. which ones look like “Games” but are real­ly Train­ing, improv­ing, spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al skills? Well, that’s why we are pub­lish­ing the Sharp­Brains Check­list below, to help you nav­i­gate through the over­whelm­ing and con­flict­ing media reports and com­pa­ny announce­ments.

We have spent over 18 months inter­view­ing sci­en­tists and review­ing avail­able Brain Fit­ness and Exer­cise Pro­grams world­wide, and want to share with you, right now, the research-based cri­te­ria we use to eval­u­ate them.

10 Ques­tions to Choose the Right Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram for You (and a brief expla­na­tion of why each ques­tion is impor­tant)

* 1. Are there sci­en­tists, ide­al­ly neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists, and a sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board behind the pro­gram?

(Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists spe­cial­ize in mea­sur­ing and under­stand­ing human cog­ni­tion and brain struc­ture and func­tion.)

* 2. Are there pub­lished, peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic papers in PubMed writ­ten by those sci­en­tists? How many?

(Pubmed is a ser­vice of the U.S. Nation­al Library of Med­i­cine that includes mil­lions of cita­tions sci­ence jour­nals. If a sci­en­tist has not pub­lished a paper that appears in that data­base, he or she can­not make sci­en­tif­ic claims.)

* 3. What are the spe­cif­ic ben­e­fits claimed for using this pro­gram? Read the rest of this entry »

Nintendo BrainAge, Lumosity, Happy Neuron, MyBrainTrainer…

A col­lec­tion of recent announce­ment in the “brain games” or “brain train­ing games” space:

The Wii sets new gen­er­a­tional stan­dards for the videogame indus­try

  • “The age­ing of the Japan­ese pop­u­la­tion com­pelled gamemak­er Nin­ten­do to widen its audi­ence. Now, the Wii is lead­ing the indus­try stan­dards. But hard­core gamers are still too impor­tant to be neglect­ed.”

Strain your brain the smart way

  • George Har­ri­son, Nin­ten­do’s senior vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions, has said that more than half of the com­pa­ny’s mar­ket­ing for Wii is aimed at adults. And the sys­tem has been pre­sent­ed at con­ven­tions for the aging “gray gamer” pop­u­la­tion.” and talks about sudoku, Brain Age, Big Brain Acad­e­my, and more.

SBT Announces the Acqui­si­tion of Quix­it

Brain Exercise for the Frontal lobes: the McKinsey Mind

My first full-time job was as a strate­gic con­sul­tant at McK­in­sey & Com­pa­ny. A very intense 2‑year learn­ing expe­ri­ence.

Their Alum­ni News Ser­vice recent­ly inter­viewed me and pub­lished this great arti­cle on Sharp­Brains. The writer does a superb job of pro­vid­ing an overview of what we do, so I rec­om­mend you read it. I’d like to empha­size the fol­low­ing quotes for any­one look­ing for jobs these days, so that “brain exer­cise” is part of the equa­tion:

  • Alvaro has some very high praise for the men­tal gym­nas­tics that the McK­in­sey expe­ri­ence pro­vides.  Giv­en that the frontal lobes in our brain (behind the fore­head) only mature in our late 20s, he says, the jobs we take in our ear­ly and mid-20s are very impor­tant not only for our career prospects, but also for our brain devel­op­ment fit­ness. This is the stage in our life where, con­scious­ly or not, we can improve our deci­sion-mak­ing, ini­tia­tive and self-reg­u­la­tion abil­i­ties, all of which lit­er­al­ly affect the phys­i­cal growth of our frontal lobes in a sig­nif­i­cant way.”
  • Join­ing McK­in­sey as a BA is lit­er­al­ly like join­ing a brain gym, Alvaro says. “The demands of the McK­in­sey mod­el. Read the rest of this entry »

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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