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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edi­tion of our month­ly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tion Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science recent­ly pub­lished a spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion, and invit­ed me to con­tribute with an arti­cle titled Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age. Ground­break­ing brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to improve brain health and per­for­mance is immense, but we need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-health­care chan­nels. Click Here to read my arti­cle.

Announce­ments

In May 2009 Sharp­Brains pub­lished The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2009, the main indus­try report for lead­ing orga­ni­za­tions prepar­ing their mem­bers, their clients, and their patients for the cog­ni­tive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a mar­ket sur­vey with 2,000+ respon­dents, detailed analy­sis of 20+ ven­dors, research briefs writ­ten by 12 lead­ing sci­en­tists and data and trends for 4 major cus­tomer seg­ments.webinar

Below we share the full Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry of the report and announce an exclu­sive webi­nar on Sep­tem­ber 29th to dis­cuss the State of the Mar­ket in more depth with buy­ers of the report.

To order the report and access both the report and the webi­nar, you can click Here. (Only $975 -a 25% dis­count- using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

State of the Mar­ket

The brain fit­ness field holds excit­ing promise for the future while pre­sent­ing clear oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges today. The good news is that there are more tools avail­able than ever before to assess and train a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive skills. The bad news is that there are no mag­ic pills and that con­sumers, while sat­is­fied over­all, seem con­fused by com­pet­ing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this ear­ly-stage mar­ket can mature in a more ratio­nal, struc­tured man­ner; but there is much work to be done. We esti­mate that the size of the U.S. brain fit­ness soft­ware (i.e., appli­ca­tions designed to assess or enhance cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties) mar­ket in 2008 was Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this arti­cle belongs to the excel­lent May 2009 spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion at sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science. The arti­cle, an indus­try overview, is repro­duced here with autho­riza­tion by the Fron­tiers Research Foun­da­tion)

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age

By Alvaro Fer­nan­dez

Ground­break­ing cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science research has occurred over the last 20 years — with­out par­al­lel growth of con­sumer aware­ness and appro­pri­ate pro­fes­sion­al dis­sem­i­na­tion. “Cog­ni­tion” remains an elu­sive con­cept with unclear impli­ca­tions out­side the research com­mu­ni­ty.

Ear­li­er this year, I pre­sent­ed a talk to health care pro­fes­sion­als at the New York Acad­e­my of Med­i­cine, titled “Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware: Help­ing Con­sumers Sep­a­rate Hope from Hype”. I explained what com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools can do (assess/enhance spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tions), what they can­not do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the cur­rent uncer­tain­ties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms). At the same sym­po­sium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Direc­tor of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try at Mon­te­fiore Med­ical Cen­ter, pro­vid­ed guid­ance on why and how to screen for exec­u­tive func­tion deficits in the con­text of demen­tia.

I could per­ceive two emerg­ing trends at the event: 1) “Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion” research is most com­mon­ly framed as a health­care, often phar­ma­co­log­i­cal top­ic, with the tra­di­tion­al cog­ni­tive bias in med­i­cine of focus­ing on detec­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease, 2) In addi­tion, there is a grow­ing inter­est in non-inva­sive enhance­ment options and over­all lifestyle issues. Research find­ings in Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion are only just begin­ning to reach the main­stream mar­ket­place, most­ly through health­care chan­nels. The oppor­tu­ni­ty is immense, but we will need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-health­care chan­nels.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, we polled the 21,000 sub­scribers of Sharp­Brains’ mar­ket research eNewslet­ter to iden­ti­fy atti­tudes and behav­iors towards the “brain fit­ness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a num­ber of con­sumer sur­veys and focus groups to con­nect with a wider audi­ence). Over 2,000 deci­sion-mak­ers and ear­ly adopters respond­ed to the sur­vey.

One of the key ques­tions we asked was, “What is the most impor­tant prob­lem you see in the brain fit­ness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some exam­ples of the sur­vey free text answers are quot­ed here, togeth­er with my sug­ges­tions.

Most impor­tant prob­lems in the brain fit­ness field

Pub­lic aware­ness (39%): “To get peo­ple to under­stand that hered­i­ty alone does not decide brain func­tion­ing”. We need to ramp up efforts to build pub­lic aware­ness and enthu­si­asm about brain research, includ­ing estab­lish­ing clear links to dai­ly liv­ing. We can col­lab­o­rate with ini­tia­tives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week and use the recent “Neu­ro­science Core Con­cepts” mate­ri­als devel­oped by the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science to give talks at schools, libraries and work­places.

Claims (21%): “The lack of stan­dards and clear def­i­n­i­tions is very con­fus­ing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book (Part 2 of 2)

Today we con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion with Mag­gie Jack­son, author of Dis­tract­ed: The Ero­sion of Atten­tion and the Com­ing Dark Age.

You can read part 1 here.

Q — In your Har­vard Man­age­ment Update inter­view, you said that “When what we pay atten­tion to is dri­ven by the last email we received, the triv­ial and the cru­cial occu­py the same plane.” As well, it seems to be that a prob­lem is our culture’s over-ide­al­iza­tion of “always on” and “road war­rior” habits, which dis­tract from the impor­tance of exec­u­tive func­tions such as pay­ing atten­tion to one’s envi­ron­ment, set­ting up goals and plans, exe­cut­ing on them, mea­sur­ing results, and inter­nal­iz­ing learn­ing. How can com­pa­nies bet­ter equip their employ­ees for future suc­cess? Can you offer some exam­ples of com­pa­nies who have pos­i­tive cul­tures that encour­age and reward employ­ees ful­ly put their frontal lobes into good use?

A.  As I men­tioned above, we are work­ing and liv­ing in ways that under­mine our abil­i­ty to strate­gize, focus, reflect, inno­vate. Skim­ming, mul­ti­task­ing and speed all have a place in 21st-cen­tu­ry life. But we can’t let go of deep­er skills of focus and think­ing and relat­ing, or we’ll cre­ate a soci­ety of mis­un­der­stand­ing and shal­low think­ing.

To cre­ate work­places that fos­ter strate­gic think­ing, deep social con­nec­tion and inno­va­tion, we need to take three steps:

First, ques­tion the val­ues that ven­er­ate McThink­ing and under­mine atten­tion. Recent­ly, my morn­ing paper car­ried a front-page sto­ry about efforts in an age of impa­tience to cre­ate a quick-boot com­put­er. It’s ridicu­lous to ask peo­ple to wait a cou­ple of min­utes to start up their com­put­er, explained one tech exec­u­tive. The first hand up in the class­room, the hyper busi­ness-man or woman who can’t sit still, much less lis­ten  these are icons of suc­cess in Amer­i­can soci­ety. Still, many of us are begin­ning to ques­tion our ado­ra­tion of instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and hyper-mobil­i­ty.

Sec­ond, we need to set the stage for focus indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly by rewrit­ing our cli­mate of dis­trac­tion and inat­ten­tion. To help, some com­pa­nies and busi­ness lead­ers are exper­i­ment­ing with white space the cre­ation of phys­i­cal spaces or times on the cal­en­dar for unin­ter­rupt­ed, unwired think­ing and Read the rest of this entry »

Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book

Today we’ll dis­cuss some of the cog­ni­tive impli­ca­tions of “always on” work­places and lifestyles via a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view with Mag­gie Jack­son, an award-win­ning author and jour­nal­ist. Her lat­est book, Dis­tract­ed: The Ero­sion of Atten­tion and the Com­ing Dark Age, describes Distracted by Maggie Jacksonthe impli­ca­tions of our busy work and life envi­ron­ments and offers impor­tant reflec­tions to help us thrive in them.

This is a 2-part inter­view con­duct­ed via e-mail: we will pub­lish the con­tin­u­a­tion on Thurs­day March 12th.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: New York Times colum­nist David Brooks said last year that we live in a Cog­ni­tive Age, and encour­aged read­ers to be aware of this change and try and adapt to the new real­i­ty. Can you explain the cog­ni­tive demands of today’s work­places that weren’t there 30–40 years ago?

Mag­gie Jack­son: Our work­places have changed enor­mous­ly in recent decades, and it’s easy to point to the Black­ber­ry or the lap­top as the sources of our cul­ture of speed and over­load and dis­trac­tion. But it’s impor­tant to note first that our 24/7, frag­ment­ed work cul­ture has deep­er roots. With the first high-tech inven­tions, such as the cin­e­ma, phono­graph, tele­graph, rail, and car, came rad­i­cal changes in human expe­ri­ence of time and space. Dis­tance was shat­tered  long before email and red-eye flights. Tele­graph oper­a­tors  not online daters  expe­ri­enced the first vir­tu­al love affairs, as evi­denced by the 1890s nov­el Wired Love. Now, we wres­tle with the effects of changes seed­ed long ago.

Today, the cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal demands on work­ers are steep. Con­sid­er 24/7 liv­ing. At great cost to our health, we oper­ate in a sleep­less, hur­ried world, ignor­ing cues of sun and sea­son, the Indus­tri­al Age inven­tions of the week­end and vaca­tion, and the rhythms of biol­o­gy. We try to break the fet­ters of time and live like per­pet­u­al motion machines. That’s one rea­son why we feel over­loaded and stressed con­di­tions that are cor­ro­sive to prob­lem-solv­ing and clear think­ing.

At the same time, our tech­nolo­gies allow us access to mil­lions of infor­ma­tion bites pro­duc­ing an abun­dance of data that is both won­drous and dan­ger­ous. Unless we have the will, dis­ci­pline and frame­works for turn­ing this infor­ma­tion into wis­dom, we remain stuck on the sur­face of Read the rest of this entry »

The Overflowing Brain: Most Important Book of 2008

We have tracked for sev­er­al years the sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies pub­lished by Torkel Kling­berg and col­leagues, often won­der­ing aloud, “when will edu­ca­tors, health pro­fes­sion­als, exec­u­tives and main­stream soci­ety come to appre­ci­ate the poten­tial we have in front of  us to enhance our brains and improve our cog­ni­tive func­tions?”

Dr. Kling­berg has just pub­lished a very stim­u­lat­ing the Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingsbergpop­u­lar sci­ence book, The Over­flow­ing Brain, that should help in pre­cise­ly that direc­tion. Giv­en the impor­tance of the top­ic, and the qual­i­ty of the book, we have named  The Over­flow­ing Brain: Infor­ma­tion Over­load and the Lim­its of Work­ing Mem­o­ry The Sharp­Brains Most Impor­tant Book of 2008, and asked Dr. Kling­berg to write a brief arti­cle to intro­duce his research and book to you. Below you have. Enjoy!

Research and Tools to Thrive in the Cog­ni­tive Age

By Dr. Torkel Kling­berg

Do we all have atten­tion deficits?

The infor­ma­tion age has pro­vid­ed us with high tech­nol­o­gy which fills our days with an ever increas­ing amount of infor­ma­tion and dis­trac­tion. We are con­stant­ly flood­ed with on-the-go emails, phone calls, adver­tise­ments and text-mes­sages and we try to cope with the increas­ing pace by mul­ti task­ing. A sur­vey of work­places in the Unit­ed States found that the per­son­nel were inter­rupt­ed and dis­tract­ed rough­ly every three min­utes and that peo­ple work­ing on a com­put­er had on aver­age eight win­dows open at the same time. There is no ten­den­cy for this to slow down; the amount and com­plex­i­ty of infor­ma­tion con­tin­u­al­ly increas­es

The most press­ing con­cerns with this envi­ron­ment are: how do we deal with the dai­ly influx of infor­ma­tion that our inun­dat­ed men­tal capac­i­ties are faced with? At what point does our stone-age brain become insuf­fi­cient? Will we be able to train our brains effec­tive­ly to increase brain capac­i­ty in order to Read the rest of this entry »

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