Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Training: No Magic Bullet, Yet Useful Tool. Interview with Elizabeth Zelinski

Sharon Beg­ley, Newsweek’s sci­ence reporter, recent­ly wrote that

- “With the nation’s 78 mil­lion baby boomers approach­ing the age of those dread­ed ‘“where did I leave my keys?” moments, it’s no won­der the mar­ket for com­put­er-based brain train­ing has shot up from essen­tial­ly zero in 2005 to $80 mil­lion this year, accord­ing to the con­sult­ing firm Sharp­Brains.

- “Now comes the largest and most rig­or­ous study of a com­mer­cial­ly-avail­able train­ing pro­gram, and it shows that there is hope for aging brains. This morn­ing, at the meet­ing of the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, sci­en­tists are pre­sent­ing data show­ing that after eight weeks of dai­ly one-hour ses­sions with Brain Fit­ness 2.0 from Posit Sci­ence, elder­ly vol­un­teers got mea­sur­ably bet­ter in their brain’s speed and accu­ra­cy of processElizabeth Zelinski IMPACTing.

We recent­ly had the chance to inter­view Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Andrus Geron­tol­ogy Cen­ter, who led the IMPACT (Improve­ment in Mem­o­ry with Plas­tic­i­ty-based Adap­tive Cog­ni­tive Train­ing) Study Sharon Beg­ley refers to in the quote above.

First, some con­text on this study, which is by far the largest high-qual­i­ty study of its kind. The study was prospec­tive, ran­dom­ized, con­trolled, and used a dou­ble blind tri­al. 524 healthy adults 65-year-old and over were divid­ed into two groups. One received an hour a day of train­ing for eight to ten weeks, and the oth­er spent the same amount of time watch­ing edu­ca­tion­al DVDs. The IMPACT study, fund­ed by Posit Sci­ence cor­po­ra­tion, was per­formed in mul­ti­ple loca­tions, includ­ing the Mayo Clin­ic, USCF, and San Fran­cis­co Vet­er­an Affairs Med­ical Cen­ter.

The dis­cus­sion cen­ters at his point on the ini­tial results that were pre­sent­ed Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca (the study hasn’t been pub­lished yet).

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: Dr. Zelin­s­ki. Thank you for being with us. Could you start by set­ting the con­text and pro­vid­ing an overview of how human cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties typ­i­cal­ly evolve as we age based on insights from your Long Beach Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study?

Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki: Of course. The first con­cept to under­stand is that dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive skills evolve over the lifes­pan in dif­fer­ent ways. Some that rely on expe­ri­ence, such as vocab­u­lary, actu­al­ly improve as we age. Some tend to decline grad­u­al­ly, start­ing in our late 20s. This hap­pens, for exam­ple, with pro­cess­ing speed (how long it takes us to process and respond to infor­ma­tion), mem­o­ry, and rea­son­ing. We could sum­ma­rize this phe­nom­e­non by say­ing that as we age we get bet­ter at deal­ing with the famil­iar, but worse at deal­ing with the new. We can always learn, but at a slow­er pace.

Are there any spe­cif­ic tip­ping or inflec­tion points in this trend, any age when the rate of decline is more pro­nounced?

We don’t have a clear answer to that. It depends a lot on the indi­vid­ual. In gen­er­al it is a grad­ual, cumu­la­tive process, so that by age 70 we sta­tis­ti­cal­ly see clear age declines. Which, for exam­ple, is a strong fac­tor deter­min­ing why old­er adults strug­gle to adapt to new tech­nolo­gies, but why try­ing to learn them pro­vides need­ed men­tal stim­u­la­tion. Now we know that genes only account for a por­tion of this decline. Much of it depends on our envi­ron­ment, lifestyle and actions.

Can you sum­ma­rize what a healthy indi­vid­ual can do to slow down this process of decline, and help stay healthy and pro­duc­tive as long as pos­si­ble?

One gen­er­al rec­om­men­da­tion is to do every­thing we can to pre­vent or delay dis­ease process­es, such as dia­betes or high-blood pres­sure, that have a neg­a­tive effect on our brains. For exam­ple, it is a tragedy in our soci­ety that we usu­al­ly reduce our lev­els of phys­i­cal exer­cise dras­ti­cal­ly after we leave school.

Let me then ask: what are the rel­a­tive virtues of phys­i­cal vs. men­tal exer­cise?

Great ques­tion! That in fact leads into my sec­ond rec­om­men­da­tion. Aer­o­bic exer­cise has been shown to Read the rest of this entry »

Jogging our Brains for Brain Vitality, Healthy Aging-and Intelligence!

Stroop Test

Quick: say the col­or in which each word in this graph­ic is dis­played (don’t just read the word!):

Here you have a round-up of some great recent arti­cles on mem­o­ry, aging, and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as self-con­trol:

1) How to Boost Your Willpow­er (New York Times).

- “The video watch­ers were lat­er giv­en a con­cen­tra­tion test in which they were asked to iden­ti­fy the col­or in which words were dis­played. (Note: now you see why we start­ed with that brain exer­cise…) The word  for instance, might appear in blue ink. The video watch­ers who had sti­fled their respons­es did the worst on the test, sug­gest­ing that their self-con­trol had already been deplet­ed by the film chal­lenge.”

- “Final­ly, some research sug­gests that peo­ple strug­gling with self-con­trol should start small. A few stud­ies show that peo­ple who were instruct­ed for two weeks to make small changes like improv­ing their pos­ture or brush­ing their teeth with their oppo­site hand improved their scores on lab­o­ra­to­ry tests of self-con­trol. The data aren’t con­clu­sive, but they do sug­gest that the quest for self-improve­ment should start small. A vow to stop swear­ing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strength­en your self-con­trol, giv­ing you more willpow­er reserves for big­ger chal­lenges lat­er.”

Com­ment: learn­ing, build­ing abil­i­ties, are process­es that require prac­tice and grow­ing lev­els of dif­fi­cul­ty. Like train­ing our mus­cles in the gym. So the advice to start small and pro­gres­sive­ly do more makes sense. Many times the ene­my of learn­ing is the stress and anx­i­ety we pro­voke by try­ing to do too many things at the same time…

2) Jog­ging Your Mem­o­ry (Newsweek) Thanks Chris for alert­ing us!

- “No one should expect mir­a­cles soon, if at all. But the deep­er sci­en­tists peer into the work­ings of mem­o­ry, the bet­ter they under­stand Read the rest of this entry »

Posit Science @ GSA: well-designed Brain Training Works

Newsweek’s Sharon Beg­ley writes a great note on Brain Train­ing: How It Works based on ini­tial data pre­sent­ed at the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca over the week­end. Some quotes:

- With the nation’s 78 mil­lion baby boomers approach­ing the age of those dread­ed “where did I leave my keys? moments, it’s no won­der the mar­ket for com­put­er-based brain train­ing has shot up from essen­tial­ly zero in 2005 to $80 mil­lion this year, accord­ing to the con­sult­ing firm Sharp­Brains.

- Now comes the largest and most rig­or­ous study of a com­mer­cial­ly-avail­able train­ing pro­gram, and it shows that there is hope for aging brains. This morn­ing, at the meet­ing of the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, sci­en­tists are pre­sent­ing data show­ing that after eight weeks of dai­ly one-hour ses­sions with Brain Fit­ness 2.0 from Posit Sci­ence, elder­ly vol­un­teers got mea­sur­ably bet­ter in their brain’s speed and accu­ra­cy of pro­cess­ing. And unlike every oth­er train­ing pro­gram test­ed before, the improve­ments “gen­er­al­ize to broad mea­sures of cog­ni­tion and are notice­able in every­day life,” Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, who led the IMPACT (Improve­ment in Mem­o­ry with Plas­tic­i­ty-based Adap­tive Cog­ni­tive Train­ing) Study, reports.

- For the IMPACT study, 468 par­tic­i­pants, all healthy adults 65 and over, were divid­ed into two groups. One received an hour a day of train­ing on Brain­Fit­ness for eight to ten weeks, and the oth­er (the con­trol group) got the same amount of com­put­er-based learn­ing. That choice of con­trol group is sig­nif­i­cant. It means that Brain Fit­ness was being com­pared not to star­ing into space or some sim­i­lar­ly unhelp­ful activ­i­ty, but to one that might rea­son­ably be expect­ed to improve men­tal abil­i­ty.

- Because the Brain Fit­ness group showed greater improve­ments than the con­trols, includ­ing on tasks that the com­put­er-based exer­cis­es did not explic­it­ly tar­get, it sug­gests that the audi­to­ry train­ing has altered some­thing fun­da­men­tal in the brain and not just spe­cif­ic cir­cuits for, say, mem­o­ry.

Read full post: Brain Train­ing: How It Works

The Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca press release includes

- Researchers released ini­tial data today at the 60th Annu­al Meet­ing of The Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca (GSA) that showed that doing the right kind of brain exer­cise can enhance mem­o­ry and oth­er cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties of old­er adults.

- “We pre­sent­ed these impor­tant results at the Annu­al Meet­ing of GSA, because aging experts need to spread the word that cog­ni­tive decline is not an inevitable part of aging, said Dr. Zelin­s­ki. “Doing the prop­er­ly designed cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties can actu­al­ly enhance abil­i­ties as you age.”

I will be inter­view­ing Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki as part of our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series, so keep tuned.

One clar­i­fi­ca­tion: this is not the first study to show how cog­ni­tive train­ing can gen­er­al­ize beyond the tasks direct­ly trained. Oth­ers have already shown an effect on cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and even on real-world tasks, on a vari­ety of age groups and trained func­tions. But the size of it (468 par­tic­i­pants) makes it by far the largest that does so, and the effects are very sig­nif­i­cant and promis­ing.

Brain Training and SharpBrains in the news

Sev­er­al recent sto­ries on brain train­ing and Sharp­Brains:

1) New brain games may improve mind fit­ness by Kevin Koster­man (U of Wis­con­sin Oshkosh’s Advance-Titan)

Any­time we learn, we are train­ing, chang­ing, our brain,” Fer­nan­dez said. “The three key core ele­ments for effec­tive brain exer­cise are nov­el­ty, vari­ety and con­stant chal­lenge, sim­i­lar to increas­ing the lev­el in machines we find in gyms.”

2) “Train­ing the Brain as pos­si­ble as Train­ing the Body”, جريدة النهار by Hana­di El Diri (Anna­har, one of the most pres­ti­gious papers in the Mid­dle East. The text is in Ara­bic.)

3) “Train your brain” by Mark Muck­en­fuss (The Press-Enter­prise in River­side and San Bernardi­no)

We can­not promise to peo­ple you will only keep get­ting bet­ter until you are 200 years old. But I think peo­ple still under­es­ti­mate how flex­i­ble the brain real­ly is.”

The Smart­Brains [sic] pro­gram com­bines men­tal exer­cis­es with a stress reduc­tion pro­gram. Too much stress, says Fer­nan­dez, has been shown to be dam­ag­ing not only to per­for­mance, but to the brain itself.
With all of the avail­able pro­grams for stim­u­lat­ing the brain, he says, it is impor­tant to shop care­ful­ly. A crit­i­cal ele­ment, he says, is how clients or par­tic­i­pants are eval­u­at­ed.

Make sure they have a cred­i­ble assess­ment that helps you find your strengths and weak­ness­es and that they have pro­grams that address (those areas),” he says. “Assess­ments that give you 50 (as an age-equiv­a­lent grade) and a week lat­er you’re 32, that’s not a valu­able assess­ment.”

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.

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