Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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 »

Update: Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation

As mentioned before, the World Economic Forum asked me to write “an 800 words summary of your most compelling actionable idea on the challenges of gerontology”, in preparation for the Inaugural Summit of the Global Agenda that will take place November 7 to 9th in Dubai.A good number of SharpBrains readers and clients offered their insights – and expressed an interest in reading the draft. So below you have – a proposal to create a Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation, building on our existing market research and advisory services work. Your thoughts?


The Context

Growing Demands on Our Brains: Picture 6.7 billion Primitive Brains inhabiting a Knowledge Society where lifelong learning and mastering constant change in complex environments are critical for productive work, health and personal fulfillment.

Welcome to Planet Earth, 2008.

Further stretched by increased longevity: Now picture close to 1 billion of those brains over the age of 60 – and please remember that, less than 100 years ago, life expectancy was between 30 to 40 years. The rapidly evolving Knowledge Society is placing new and enormous demands on our “primitive” human brains. And the longer our lifespans, the more obvious the “cognitive gap”. Hence, from a health point of view, the growing Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise your brain at these events

Here are the dates and locations of some upcoming events where I will be presenting. Please introduce yourself if you are attending!

>> September 4-5th, San Francisco, CA: several Brain Health Promotion sessions, at the American Society on Aging conference.

>> October 9th, Vancouver, Canada: Exercising Our Brains 101 and Navigating The Brain Fitness Maze, at the British Columbia Seniors Living Association annual conference.

>> October 11th, San Jose, CA: The Science and Practice of Brain Fitness, at San Jose State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. (Information here).

>> October 23rd, Pocatello, Idaho: Cognitive and Emotional Training for Healthy Aging, at the Idaho Conference on Health Care. (Information here).

>> November 1st, Berkeley, CA: The Science and Practice of Brain Fitness, at UC-Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. (Information here).

>> November 7-9th, Dubai: Global Agenda Councils Inaugural Summit in Dubai, organized by the World Economic Forum. (Information here).

>> November 17th, New York City: The Emerging Brain Fitness Field: Research and Implications, at New York Public Library.

>> December 5th, San Antonio, Texas: The Emerging Brain Fitness Field: Overview of Research and Tools, at the International Council on Active Aging conference. (Information here).

As always, I will share the main take-aways via this blog. I hope to meet some of you down the road!

Update: The Challenges of Gerontology

Here you have the twice-a-month newsletter with our most popular blog posts. Please brainremember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

First, I am pleased to report that have been invited to participate in a new initiative by the World Economic Forum. Described as “In a global environment marked by short-term orientation and silo-thinking, Global Agenda Councils will foster interdisciplinary and long-range thinking to address the prevailing challenges on the global agenda”, my specific Council will focus on the Challenges of Gerontology. More information on the Global Agenda Councils here. Will keep you updated via this blog.

In the News

Yes, It is Smart to Learn New Tricks: a recent Washington Post article presents a good overview of brain health trends, but framed around a highly artificial choice for consumers: either you a) do physical exercise, or b) take part in social interactions, or c) engage in mental exercise. What about switching off those TVs and having time for all a, b, c, and more?

Mind Games: the August issue of Venture Capital Journal brings a very good piece on the emerging brain fitness software category (subscription required), which we enhance by providing a quick overview of the field.

CogniFit raises USD 5 million: if 2007 was the year of brain fitness media coverage, 2008 seems to be the year of serious investments. This CogniFit round follows other recent venture investments: Dakim ($10.6m), Lumos Labs ($3m). We hear all these companies are devoting part of these resources to fund clinical trials…never too late.

Brain Science and Lifelong Learning

Schools as Brain Training Hubs?: in a recent post we asked for suggestions to refine our predictions for the 2007-2015 period. A good number of readers contributed, and the winner of this informal contest is… Scott Spears, retired public schools superintendent, for his thoughts on the future implications of cognitive research on schooling.

Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains: while “adults may have a tendency to get set in their ways I’ve been doing it this way for a long time and it works, so why change?”, change itself is an excellent practice for healthy brain aging, as Laurie Bartels explains.

A Farewell to Dementia?: a fascinating recent editorial in Archives of Neurology, titled Dementia: A Word to be Forgotten, calls for more constructive terminology. Dr. Joshua Steinerman weighs in.

Other Thought-Provoking Articles

To Think or to Blink?: should Hamlet be living with us now and reading bestsellers, he might be wondering: To Blink or not to Blink? To Think or not to Think? We are pleased to present an article by Madeleine Van Hecke, offering the “on the other hand” to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink argument.

The impact of web 2.0 on healthcare: we hosted Medicine 2.0, a bi-weekly collection of articles that analyze the current and potential impact of web 2.0 technologies on medicine and healthcare.

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers: Spot the Difference: how many differences can you spot (and how many cognitive functions can you engage with this simple exercise?)

I hope you are having a great August!

Global Agenda Councils: The Challenges of Gerontology

My brain is honoured to have been invited to participate-together with the rest of my body of course- in a new initiative by the World Economic Forum. Of course I have accepted, given that the Global Agenda Councils have this fascinating charter:

– “Global Agenda Councils will challenge prevailing assumptions, monitor trends, map interrelationships and address knowledge gaps. Equally important, Global Agenda Councils will also propose solutions, devise strategies and evaluate the effectiveness of actions using measurable benchmarks.”

– “In a global environment marked by short-term orientation and silo-thinking, Global Agenda Councils will foster interdisciplinary and long-range thinking to address the prevailing challenges on the global agenda.”

Update (November 2nd, 2008): my proposal is to create a Global Consortium for Neurocognitive Fitness Innovation. I will keep you informed via this blog.

The Read the rest of this entry »

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