Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Fitter bodies = fitter brains. True at all ages?

The results of recent­ly pub­lished stud­ies sug­gest that fit­ter chil­dren also have fit­ter brains. It looks like exer­cis­ing your body pro­motes brain health. Is this true at all ages? How does it work? How much exer­cise should we do?

Phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and brain health in chil­dren

An emerg­ing lit­er­a­ture sug­gests that phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and high lev­els of aer­o­bic fit­ness dur­ing child­hood  may enhance cog­ni­tion. In the 2 most recent stud­ies by Kramer and col­leagues (2010), the cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and the brains of high­er-fit and low­er-fit 9- and 10-year-old chil­dren were exam­ined.

In one study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to ignore irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and attend to rel­e­vant cues. Fit­ter chil­dren also had larg­er basal gan­glia (more specif­i­cal­ly dor­sal stria­tum) than less fit chil­dren. The basal gan­glia play a key role in cog­ni­tive con­trol (e.g. prepar­ing, ini­ti­at­ing, inhibit­ing, switch­ing respons­es).

In anoth­er study, fit­ter chil­dren did bet­ter than less fit chil­dren in a task requir­ing to mem­o­rize infor­ma­tion. Read the rest of this entry »

Tracking decline in the brain from the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s

Inter­est­ing arti­cle on The Dana Foun­da­tion web­site on how to mon­i­tor cog­ni­tive decline in the brain in the very ear­ly stages of Alzheimer’s: Func­tion­al MRI May Be Use­ful for Mon­i­tor­ing Cog­ni­tive Decline in the Elder­ly (Dana Foun­da­tion)

Alzheimer’s researchers have long want­ed to find bet­ter ways not only to diag­nose the dis­ease but also to mon­i­tor its pro­gres­sion from the ear­li­est stages.

A new study sug­gests that func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), a tech­nique cur­rent­ly used main­ly for neu­ro­science research or to guide brain surgery, could be use­ful in this clin­i­cal role.

[…] an ele­gant and thought-pro­vok­ing study.

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 »

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 »

What You Can do to Improve Memory (and Why It Deteriorates in Old Age)

After about age 50, most peo­ple begin to expe­ri­ence a decline in mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty. Why is that? One obvi­ous answer is that the small arter­ies of the brain begin to clog up, often as a result of a life­time of eat­ing the wrong things and a lack of exer­cise. If that life­time has been stress­ful, many neu­rons may have been killed by stress hor­mones. Giv­en theImprove Memory Bill Klemm most recent sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, reviewed in my book Thank You, Brain, For All You Remem­ber. What You For­got Was My Fault, dead neu­rons can’t be replaced, except in the hip­pocam­pus, which is for­tu­nate for mem­o­ry because the hip­pocam­pus is essen­tial for mak­ing cer­tain kinds of mem­o­ries per­ma­nent. Anoth­er cause is incip­i­ent Alzheimer’s dis­ease; autop­sies show that many peo­ple have the lesions of the dis­ease but have nev­er shown symp­toms, pre­sum­ably because a life­time of excep­tion­al men­tal activ­i­ty has built up a “cog­ni­tive reserve.

So is there any­thing you can do about it besides exer­cise like crazy, eat healthy foods that you don’t like all that much, pop your statin pills, and take up yoga?

Yes. In short: focus, focus, focus.

Chang­ing think­ing styles can help. Research shows that Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Follow us and Engage via…

twitter_logo_header
RSS Feed

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives

Enter Your Email to receive Sharp­Brains free, monthly eNewslet­ter:

Join more than 50,000 Sub­scribers and stay informed and engaged.