Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Cognitive Reserve and Intellectually Demanding Jobs

I hope you are hav­ing hap­py hol­i­days, and are get­ting ready for New Year cel­e­bra­tions. Best wish­es to you and your loved ones.

Via Med­Jour­nal­Watch we just found this inter­est­ing paper,

Asso­ci­a­tions of job demands and intel­li­gence with cog­ni­tive per­for­mance among men in late life. Guy G. Pot­ter PhD*, Michael J. Helms BS, and Bren­da L. Plass­man PhD Neu­rol­o­gy 2007.

- CONCLUSIONS: “Intel­lec­tu­al­ly demand­ing work was asso­ci­at­ed with greater ben­e­fit to cog­ni­tive per­for­mance in lat­er life inde­pen­dent of relat­ed fac­tors like edu­ca­tion and intel­li­gence. The fact that indi­vid­u­als with low­er intel­lec­tu­al apti­tude demon­strat­ed a stronger pos­i­tive asso­ci­a­tion between work and high­er cog­ni­tive per­for­mance dur­ing retire­ment sug­gests that behav­ior may enhance intel­lec­tu­al reserve, per­haps even years after peak intel­lec­tu­al activ­i­ty.”

This is con­sis­tent with the Cog­ni­tive Reserve the­o­ry we dis­cussed in the inter­view with neu­ro­sci­en­tist Yaakov Stern:

- AF (Alvaro Fer­nan­dez): OK, so our goal is to build that Reserve of neu­rons, synaps­es, and skills. How can we do that? What defines “men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties” or good “brain exer­cise”?

- YS (Yaakov Stern): In sum­ma­ry, we could say that “stim­u­la­tion” con­sists of engag­ing in activ­i­ties. In our research almost all activ­i­ties are seen to con­tribute to reserve. Some have chal­leng­ing lev­els of cog­ni­tive com­plex­i­ty, and some have inter­per­son­al or phys­i­cal demands. In ani­mal stud­ies, expo­sure to an enriched envi­ron­ment or increased phys­i­cal activ­i­ty result in increased neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons). You can get that stim­u­la­tion through edu­ca­tion and/ or your occu­pa­tion. There is clear research show­ing how those two ele­ments reduce the risk. Now, what is very excit­ing is that, no mat­ter one’s age, edu­ca­tion and occu­pa­tion, our lev­el of par­tic­i­pa­tion in leisure activ­i­ties has a sig­nif­i­cant and cumu­la­tive effect. A key mes­sage here is that dif­fer­ent activ­i­ties have inde­pen­dent, syn­er­gis­tic, con­tri­bu­tions, which means the more things you do and the ear­li­er you start, the bet­ter. But you are nev­er stuck: bet­ter late than nev­er.

- Read more on the Cog­ni­tive Reserve

In short, men­tal­ly and social­ly stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties, through our edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion AND leisure activ­i­ties, con­tribute to build­ing a Cog­ni­tive Reserve in our brains that may help delay mem­o­ry prob­lems, Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment, and Alzheimer’s relat­ed symp­toms, and help main­tain cog­ni­tive per­for­mance over­all as we age.

If you are think­ing about New Year Res­o­lu­tions, this is one more area to con­sid­er. Hap­py 2008!

Cognitive Fitness as a New Frontier of Fitness

emWave for Stress ManagementVery good arti­cle in the LA Times today. Like a Stair­Mas­ter for the brain: Can men­tal work­outs improve the mind’s agili­ty? Baby boomer con­cerns stim­u­late an indus­try expan­sion.

The reporter, Melis­sa Healy, reviews the healthy aging seg­ment in the Brain Fit­ness field. A few select­ed quotes:

- “There is plau­si­bil­i­ty, both bio­log­i­cal and behav­ioral, to the claim that these may work,” says Mol­ly Wag­ster, chief of the Nation­al Insti­tute on Aging’s neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy branch. “But it is still a sit­u­a­tion of ‘buy­er beware.’ ”

- “I see this as a new fron­tier of fit­ness over­all,” says Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, founder and chief exec­u­tive of the web­site Sharp­Brains .com, which tracks the busi­ness and sci­ence of brain-train­ing. Amer­i­cans already under­stand the val­ue of phys­i­cal fit­ness as a means of pre­serv­ing the body’s prop­er func­tion and pre­vent­ing age-relat­ed dis­eases, says Fer­nan­dez. He pre­dicts that cog­ni­tive fit­ness will become a goal to which Amer­i­cans equal­ly aspire as we learn more about aging and the brain.
— (Dr. Elkhonon) Gold­berg, who pro­vides sci­en­tif­ic advice on the web­site http://www.sharpbrains.com/, says that as neu­ro­sci­en­tists use imag­ing tech­nolo­gies to “see” the cel­lu­lar changes that come with learn­ing, he grows more con­fi­dent that well-designed train­ing pro­grams can have dis­cernible every­day effects in pre­serv­ing or repair­ing the intel­lec­tu­al func­tion of old­er adults. “This is shared hard­ware” that’s being changed in the brain, “and to the extent you some­how enhance it, that will have wide-rang­ing effects,” Gold­berg says. “It pro­vides a much more com­pelling raison­tre for this whole busi­ness.”

The arti­cle adds that “Amer­i­cans this year are expect­ed to invest $225 mil­lion in these pro­grams — up from just $70 mil­lion in 2003 — in an effort to tune up the brain, strength­en the mem­o­ry and fore­stall or reverse the cog­ni­tive slip­page that often comes with age, psy­chi­atric dis­ease, stroke or med­ical treat­ments.”

Our break­down for those 2007 US pre­dic­tions are as fol­lows: $80m for the Con­sumer seg­ment, $60m in K12 Edu­ca­tion, $50m in Clin­i­cal appli­ca­tions, and $35m in the Cor­po­rate seg­ment. The Con­sumer seg­ment, with a healthy aging val­ue propo­si­tion, is the most recent one but the most rapid­ly grow­ing.

Read the full arti­cle: Like a Stair­Mas­ter for the brain.

PS: the arti­cle also says “In the last three years, these brain­pow­er-boost­ing pro­grams have pro­lif­er­at­ed, with names like Mind­Fit, Hap­py Neu­ron, Brain Fit­ness and Lumos­i­ty.”.. if there are reporters read­ing this, please avoid future con­fu­sion by nam­ing Posit Sci­ence’s pro­gram “Posit Sci­ence Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram 2.0”. Brain Fit­ness refers to the full cat­e­go­ry.

On The Brain

neuronsVery intense week, and very fun. I will be writ­ing more about this week’s 3 speak­ing events, but let me say now that our key mes­sages

1) our brains remain flex­i­ble dur­ing our life­times,

2) we can refine our brains with tar­get­ed prac­tice,

3) good brain exer­cise, or “men­tal cross-training”, requires nov­el­ty, vari­ety, and increas­ing lev­el of chal­lenge (but with­out cre­at­ing too much stress),

are being very well accept­ed from both healthy aging and work­place pro­duc­tiv­i­ty points of view. We have ONE brain: health and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty are 2 sides of the same coin.

If you want to make sure we learn more about our brains, you can help fel­low blog­ger Shel­ley Batts get a col­lege schol­ar­ship by voting here. She has a great neu­ro­science blog, is now final­ist in a com­pe­ti­tion to win a nice schol­ar­ship, and needs out help.

Have some more time? You can watch this excellent 90-sec­ond video of cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist Dr Lisa Sak­si­da doing yoga in front of the fire while explain­ing the nature of Brain and Mind (via Mind­Hacks). Quotes:

I wish peo­ple under­stood that there is no mind/brain dual­i­ty. Specif­i­cal­ly, I wish peo­ple under­stood that there is no such thing as a pure­ly psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­der. Every event in your psy­cho­log­i­cal life, and there­fore every psy­cho­log­i­cal change, is reducible in the­o­ry to events and changes in your brain. We should there­fore not judge peo­ple dif­fer­ent­ly, accord­ing to whether they are con­sid­ered to have a ‘psy­cho­log­i­cal’ as opposed to a ‘neu­ro­log­i­cal’ prob­lem.”

Of course, a lack of mind/brain split does not mean that we should aban­don all talk of psy­chol­o­gy. Psy­chol­o­gy and neu­ro­science are two ways of study­ing the same thing, and both are essen­tial for under­stand­ing the human con­di­tion.”

For more, check the posts in these always great blog car­ni­vals (select­ed col­lec­tions of blog posts by a num­ber of blog­gers around spe­cif­ic top­ics)

Tan­gled Bank (sci­ence in gen­er­al)

Encephalon (neu­ro­science)

Cred­it: Pho­to of Neu­rons by sym­pha­nee via flickr

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gath­ered an impres­sive group of around 250 peo­ple to dis­cuss the most press­ing issues in Health and Med­ical Sci­ence (check out the Pro­gram and the Speak­ers bios), on Octo­ber 3–6th. It was the first con­fer­ence, by the way, where I have heard a speak­er say: “I resus­ci­tat­ed a woman yes­ter­day”.

Key high­lights and trends:

1- Glob­al health prob­lems require the atten­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Richard Klaus­ner encour­aged the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to focus on Glob­al Prob­lems: mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutri­tion, can­cer, clean water.  Bill Frist, for­mer Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader, added to that list the increas­ing epi­dem­ic risks of glob­al zoot­ic dis­eases (trans­mit­ted between humans and ani­mals), sup­port­ed by 2 inter­est­ing data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 peo­ple fly­ing world­wide; in a year, air­lines trans­port the equiv­a­lent of 2 bil­lion pas­sen­gers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robin­son, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Ire­land, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ire­land, a Catholic coun­try. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ide­ol­o­gy kills..we need more empa­thy with real­i­ty, and to work with local women in those coun­tries who need things like female con­doms.” She was implic­it­ly crit­i­ciz­ing the large bud­get devot­ed to unre­al­is­tic absti­nence pro­grams. This ses­sion includ­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audi­ence to defend the role of US aid, explain­ing how 60% of retro­vi­ral drugs in African coun­tries have been fund­ed by the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er, high­light­ing Pres­i­dent Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agen­da item in many devel­op­ing coun­tries, and crit­i­ciz­ing oth­er coun­tries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Lau­re­ate Peter Agre, also in the audi­ence, stand up and encour­age the US to real­ly step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sput­nik”?: Basic sci­ence is cru­cial for inno­va­tion and for eco­nom­ic growth, but it is often under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed. Sci­en­tists are not “nerds”, as some­times they are por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture, but peo­ple with a deep curios­i­ty and dri­ve to solve a Big prob­lem. Many of the speak­ers had been inspired by the Sput­nik and the Apol­lo mis­sions to become sci­en­tists, at a time when the pro­fes­sion was con­sid­ered cool. Two Nobel Prize Lau­re­ates (Peter Agre, Michael Bish­op), talked about their lives and careers try­ing to demys­ti­fy what it takes to be a sci­en­tist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grate­ful to the tax­pay­ers dol­lars that fund­ed their research, and insist we must do a bet­ter job at explain­ing the Sputniksci­en­tif­ic process to soci­ety at large. Both are proud of hav­ing attend­ed small lib­er­al arts col­leges, and hav­ing evolved from there, fueled by their great curios­i­ty and unpre­dictable, serendip­i­tous paths, into launch­ing new sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical fields.  Bish­op list­ed a num­ber of times where he made deci­sions that were con­sid­ered “career sui­cide” by men­tors and col­leagues, and men­tioned “I was con­fused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspir­ing.

4- We need a true Health Care Cul­ture: Mark Ganz sum­ma­rized it best by explain­ing how his health provider group improved care when they rede­fined them­selves from “we are 7,000 employ­ees” to “we are a 3 mil­lion strong com­mu­ni­ty”, mov­ing from Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness and SharpBrains.com in the Press

Fitness TrainerGrow­ing media atten­tion on the brain fit­ness field. At least on the “Healthy Aging” seg­ment (I pre­dict the media with catch up soon with devel­op­ments in oth­er areas, from cog­ni­tive train­ing for kids and adults with ADD/ ADHD to stroke and TBI reha­bil­i­ta­tion, to peak per­for­mance for cor­po­rate train­ing).

First, a superb arti­cle by Leslie Walk­er at the Wash­ing­ton Post: Cross-Train­ing Your Brain to Main­tain Its Strength

Quotes:  “A grow­ing body of research sug­gests that men­tal activ­i­ty in mid­dle age and ear­li­er can help lat­er in life. As a result, Web sites such as HappyNeuron.com are spring­ing up to offer online games to peo­ple of all ages, while blogs like SharpBrains.com pro­vide com­men­tary on the fledg­ling indus­try.” (Note: we can also pro­vide com­men­tary on the com­men­tary!)

Peo­ple who engage in very chal­leng­ing tasks — not just in work but dur­ing leisure activ­i­ties such as read­ing, cross­word puz­zles, bridge, chess and trav­el — tend to slow down their men­tal aging process very sig­nif­i­cant­ly,” says Breznitz, who is also a mem­ber of Israel’s leg­is­la­ture and has devel­oped a brain-train­ing pro­gram called Mind­Fit.”

Also con­tribut­ing to the brain work­out boom are state-of-the-art imag­ing tech­niques that have allowed sci­en­tists to val­i­date a the­o­ry devel­oped decades ago. By tak­ing detailed pic­tures of brain neu­rons, sci­en­tists watch parts of the brain that had seemed dor­mant light up and assume new respon­si­bil­i­ties in response to stim­uli. The­o­ret­i­cal­ly, this means brain decay can be halt­ed or even reversed.”

The brain is con­stant­ly rewiring and recal­i­brat­ing itself in response to what you do,” says Hen­ry Mah­ncke, whComputer Classroomo holds a PhD in neu­ro­science and is vice pres­i­dent of Posit Sci­ence, the San Fran­cis­co devel­op­er of the Brain Fit­ness soft­ware. “It remakes itself into a more effi­cient oper­a­tion to do the things you ask it to do.”

Com­ments: the arti­cle touch­es many key points. I espe­cial­ly enjoy the quote “To be effec­tive, sci­en­tists say men­tal activ­i­ty must become pro­gres­sive­ly more chal­leng­ing. Oth­er­wise, the brain adjusts and learns to per­form repet­i­tive tasks with less effort”, a key mes­sage I make often in my lec­tures to explain why well-designed pro­grams can be more effec­tive than doing cross­word puz­zle num­ber 512,789. The arti­cle also relates how many retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties and senior cen­ters and indi­vid­u­als are try­ing out the new brain fit­ness pro­grams com­ing to mar­ket, and shows some healthy skep­ti­cism on the state of the research. Now, this is an invi­ta­tion to the reporter to inter­view neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg to get the full pic­ture of the sci­ence behind the field, since these pro­grams haven’t appeared in a vac­u­um. Our 10-Ques­tion Eval­u­a­tion Check­list can pro­vide use­ful guid­ance to any­one con­sid­er­ing a pro­gram.

Boomers use online brain games to stave off demen­tia (Account­ing­Web)

Quotes: “The Inter­net offers a pletho­ra of brain games for those who don’t sub­scribe to a dai­ly news­pa­per or don’t want to pur­chase games. AARP, for exam­ple, offers plen­ty of free games on its site. More games appear at SharpBrains.com, includ­ing a page that con­tains the Top Ten Neu­ro­science Brain­teasers, and you can sign up to have the Col­lege Board e‑mail you the SAT ques­tion of the day.”

The gen­er­a­tion that refus­es to age is not going to sit back and wait for Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and oth­er signs of demen­tia to take hold. Instead, savvy Baby Boomers are expand­ing their minds (no, not the way they did in the 60s) with the aid of the com­put­er, puz­zles, and games. A brain health move­ment is sweep­ing Read the rest of this entry »

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

twitter_logo_header
RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)

Enter Your Email to receive Sharp­Brains free, monthly eNewslet­ter:

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