The best alternative for tomorrow should be better than the best alternative available today. How do we get there, when “cognition” and “brain fitness” remain elusive concepts in popular culture? I believe that the lack of public education is the major obstacle that limits the brain fitness field’s potential to deliver real-world benefits, since only informed demand will ensure the ongoing development of rational, structured “rules of the road.” What could be done to address this and other particular obstacles? [Read more…] about The Business and Ethics of the Brain Fitness Boom — Part 4: The Future
Engaging people where they are in the life-course
Eighty percent of the 38,000 adults over age 50 who were responders in the 2010 AARP Member Opinion Survey indicated “staying mentally sharp” was their top ranked interest and concern (Dinger, 2010). What exactly does this phrase mean? And what role can technology play in “staying mentally sharp”? Intel CEO Paul Otellini has said, “You have to start by thinking about what people want to do… and work backward.” [Read more…] about The Business and Ethics of the Brain Fitness Boom — Part 3: The Real Need
(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from David DiSalvo’s new book What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite.)
Taking a position in any argument—large or small—is slippery business for our brains. We can have every intention of honestly pursuing an answer, yet still fool ourselves into thinking our method is objective when it is, in fact, anything but. Cognitive science has helped decipher this enigma with research on the theoretical mental structures our brains use to organize information, called schemata. [Read more…] about What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite
Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emeritus Professor at UCSF, is a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant. In 1996, he was the founding CEO of Scientific Learning Corporation (Nasdaq: SCIL), and in 2004 became co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and to the Institute of Medicine this year. He retired as Francis A. Sooy Professor and Co-Director of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco in 2007. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV specials, multiple media appearances, or neuroplasticity-related books.
(Alvaro Fernandez) Dear Michael, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the inaugural SharpBrains Virtual Summit in January, and for your time today. In order to contextualize the Summit’s main themes, I would like to focus this interview on the likely big-picture implications during the next 5 years of your work and that of other neuroplasticity research and industry pioneers.
Thank you for inviting me. I believe the SharpBrains Summit will be very useful and stimulating, you are gathering an impressive group together. I am looking forward to January.
Neuroplasticity-based Tools: The New Health & Wellness Frontier
There are many different technology-free approaches to harnessing/ enabling/ driving neuroplasticity. What is the value that technology brings to the cognitive health table?
It’s all about efficiency, scalability, personalization, and assured effectiveness. Technology supports the implementation of near-optimally-efficient brain-training strategies. Through the Internet, it enables the low-cost distribution of these new tools, anywhere out in the world. Technology also enables the personalization of brain health training, by providing simple ways to measure and address individual needs in each person’s brain-health training experience. It enables assessments of your abilities that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effectively addressed.
Of course substantial gains could also be achieved by organizing your everyday activities that grow your neurological abilities and sustain your brain health. Still, if the ordinary citizen is to have any real chance of maintaining their brain fitness, they’re going to have to spend considerable time at the brain gym!
One especially important contribution of technology is the scalability that it provides for delivering brain fitness help out into the world. Think about how efficient the drug delivery system is today. Doctors prescribe drugs, insurance covers them, and there is a drug store in every neighborhood in almost every city in the world so that every patient has access to them. Once neuroplasticity-based tools and outcomes and standardized, we can envision a similar scenario. And we don’t need all those drug stores, because we have the Internet!
Having said this, there are obvious obstacles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of understanding of what these new tools can do. Cognitive training programs, for example, seem counter-intuitive to consumers and many professionals “ why would one try to improve speed-of-processing if all one cares about is memory? A second obvious problem is to get individuals to buy into the effort required to really change their brains for the better. That buy-in has been achieved for many individuals as it applies to their physical health, but we haven’t gotten that far yet in educating the average older person that brain fitness training is an equally effortful business!
Tools for Safer Driving: Teens and Adults
Safe driving seems to be one area where the benefits are more intuitive, which may explain the significant traction.
Yes, we see great potential and interest among insurers for improving driving safety, both for seniors and teens. Appropriate cognitive training can lower at-fault accident rates. You can measure clear benefits in relatively short time frames, so it won’t take long for insurers to see an economic rationale to not only offer programs at low cost or for free but to incentivize drivers to complete them. Allstate, AAA, State Farm and other insurers are beginning to realize this potential. It is important to note that typical accidents among teens and seniors are different, so that training methodologies will need to be different for different high-risk populations.
Yet, most driving safety initiatives today still focus on educating drivers, rather that training them neurologically. We measure vision, for example, but completely ignore attentional control abilities, or a driver’s useful field of view. I expect this to change significantly over the next few years.
Long-term care and health insurance companies will ultimately see similar benefits, and we believe that they will follow a similar course of action to reduce general medical and neurodegenerative disease- (Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkinsons-) related costs. In fact, many senior living communities are among the pioneers in this field.
Boomers & Beyond: Maintaining Cognitive Vitality
Mainstream media is covering this emerging category with thousands of stories. But most coverage seems still focused on does it work? more than “how do we define It”, what does work mean? or work for whom, and for what? Can you summarize what recent research suggests?
We have seen clear patterns in the application of our training programs, some published (like IMPACT), some unpublished, some with healthy adults, and some with people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimers Disease (AD). What we see in every case: [Read more…] about Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers
Title: The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness — Practical Advice to Keep Your Brain Sharp
- Two community-based book talks hosted by New York Public Library and supported by the Einstein Aging Study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Description: A fit brain? Can you exercise your brain and become mentally fit? Can you continue to learn and increase your brain’s capacity at any age? Alvaro Fernandez, CEO and Co-Founder of SharpBrains, says Yes!, and in this program he will show you how. Based on research compiled from leading scientists in fields of Neuroscience, Gerontology, and Cognitive Science, and presented in his book “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness”, Alvaro Fernandez will provide ways to maintain and improve your cognitive health.
— Debunk 10 Myths of Brain Fitness
— Examine the 4 Pillars of Brain Maintenance
— Discuss the difference between Mental Exercise and Mental Activity
— Evaluate Brain Training Software
— Explore emerging trends
Book and Bio: Alvaro Fernandez, CEO and Co-Founder of SharpBrains, teaches “Science of Brain Health and Brain Fitness” at UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University. He is the co-author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness.
When and where:
> September 23rd, 10am, New York Public Library, Bronx Library Center. 310 East Kingsbridge Road. (718) 579‑4244. More information here.
> September 25rd, 1pm, New York Public Library, Stephen Schwarzman Building Auditorium. Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. 917-ASK-NYPL (917–275-6975). More information here.
This is a partial list of the literature we reviewed during the research phase of our new book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. We know many friends of SharpBrains are researchers, healthcare professionals, graduate/ Ph.D. students, who want have direct access to the references (perhaps PubMed should promote itself as a never ending source of mental stimulation?), so here you have this list, organized by relevant chapter. Please note that the list below appears in the book — whose manuscript we had to close in January 2009.
Basak, C. et al. (2008). Can training in a real-time strategy video game attenuate cognitive decline in older adults? Psychology and Aging.
Begley, S. (2007). Train your mind, change your brain: How a new science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves. Ballantine Books.
DeKosky, S. T., et al. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for prevention of dementia: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300, 2253–2262.
Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Viking Adult.
Chapter 1. The Brain and Brain Fitness 101
Bunge, S. A., & Wright, S. B. (2007). Neurodevelopmental changes in working memory and cognitive control. Current Opinion In Neurobiology, 17(2), 243–50.
Damasio, A. (1995). Descartes error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. Penguin Press.
David Kolb, D. (1983). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT Press.
Draganski, B., Gaser, C., Kempermann, G., Kuhn, H. G., Winkler, J., Buchel, C., & May A. (2006). Temporal and spatial dynamics of brain structure changes during extensive learning. The Journal of Neuroscience, 261231, 6314–6317.
Gage, F. H., Kempermann, G., & Song, H. (2007). Adult Neurogenesis. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, NY.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Gaser, C. & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 9240–9245. [Read more…] about References on Cognitive Health/ Brain Fitness