Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Lumos Labs (Lumosity) Brain Training Games

Press release: Here

– “Lumos Labs, devel­op­er of Lumosity.com, the lead­ing web-based provider of sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-test­ed brain train­ing games, today announced that it has raised $3 mil­lion of equi­ty financ­ing from Pequot Ven­tures, Nor­west Ven­ture Part­ners (NVP), and exist­ing investors includ­ing Michael Dear­ing. The investor group brings exper­tise that will cat­alyze the ongo­ing devel­op­ment of Lumosity.com and sup­port Lumos Labs mis­sion to improve lives by enhanc­ing brain fit­ness.

– “Lumos Labs is at the cen­ter of a boom­ing inter­est in cog­ni­tive exer­cise and the emerg­ing sci­ence about the remark­able plas­tic­i­ty of the brain, said Amish Jani of Pequot Ven­tures. Lumosity.com has seen tremen­dous demand from users and part­ners alike by lever­ag­ing the pow­er of the web to deliv­er a unique plat­form for brain fit­ness.

Great news for the sec­tor. The more tools avail­able for lead­ing men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, the bet­ter we will all be.Rubik's Cube brain exercise

Lumosity.com (click Here to get a sense of their games) pro­vides a great user expe­ri­ence at a rea­son­able cost. From an investor’s per­spec­tive, we believe Lumos Labs is a very seri­ous con­tender in the brain fit­ness space, and it has indeed been exe­cut­ing a very smart online strat­e­gy.

Now, I am not sure what “sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly-test­ed brain train­ing games” real­ly means. While prepar­ing our Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket Report we reviewed all pub­lished research on the effi­ca­cy behind dif­fer­ent pro­grams, and didn’t find any for Lumos­i­ty (which has some very inter­est­ing inter­nal, but not pub­lished, data).

We gave Lumos­i­ty a score of 2 ouf of 10 in Clin­i­cal Val­i­da­tion (with Nin­ten­do Brain Age get­ting a score of 1, and NovaV­i­sion, cleared by the FDA for use with stroke/ TBI patients, get­ting a 5).

Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Development and Brain Research: Articles, Books, Papers (ASA)

brain fitness eventWe had a very fun ses­sion titled Teach­ing Brain Fit­ness in Your Com­mu­ni­ty at an Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging (ASA) con­fer­ence for health pro­fes­sion­als a cou­ple of weeks ago. Full house, with over 60 atten­dants and very good par­tic­i­pa­tion, show­ing great inter­est in the top­ic. I can’t wait to see the eval­u­a­tions.

These are some of the resources I promised as a fol­low-up, which can be use­ful to every­one inter­est­ed in our field:

Good gen­er­al arti­cles in the busi­ness and gen­er­al media:

Change or Die

Want a sharp mind for your gold­en years? Start now

You’re Wis­er Now

On how new neu­rons are born and grow in the adult brain:

Salk Sci­en­tists Demon­strate For The First Time That New­ly Born Brain Cells Are Func­tion­al In The Adult Brain

Old Brains, New Tricks

On the sur­pris­ing plas­tic­i­ty and devel­op­ment poten­tial through­out life:

Brain Plas­tic­i­ty, Lan­guage Pro­cess­ing and Read­ing

Jug­gling Jug­gles the Brain

Suc­cess­ful Aging of the Healthy Brain

Oth­er impor­tant aspects:

Stress and the Brain

Exer­cise and the Brain

Humor, Laugh­ter and The Brain

On the impor­tance and impact of men­tal stim­u­la­tion and train­ing: Read the rest of this entry »

10 (Surprising) Memory Improvement Tips

Healthy Seniors

There are sev­er­al brain fit­ness top­ics where we still see a large dis­con­nect between research and pop­u­lar knowl­edge, and a major one is the rela­tion­ship between mem­o­ry and stress. Car­o­line and I col­lab­o­rat­ed on this post to bring you some con­text and tips.

Our soci­ety has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with phys­i­cal, imme­di­ate­ly life-threat­en­ing crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and ill­ness­es that gnaw away at us slow­ly, that stress us out and that, believe it or not, end up hurt­ing our mem­o­ry and brain.

Dr. Robert Sapol­sky, in an inter­view about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans unique­ly “can get stressed sim­ply with thought, turn­ing on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releas­es the stress hor­mones through life-pre­serv­ing action, while we usu­al­ly just keep mud­dling along, get­ting more anx­ious by the moment.

What is the rela­tion­ship between stress and mem­o­ry? We all know chron­ic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our mem­o­ry? Inter­est­ing­ly, acute stress can help us focus and remem­ber things more vivid­ly. Chron­ic stress, on the oth­er hand, reduce our abil­i­ty to focus and can specif­i­cal­ly dam­age cells in the hip­pocam­pus, a brain struc­ture crit­i­cal to encod­ing short term mem­o­ry.

When is stress chron­ic? When one feels Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Health Glossary

Giv­en the grow­ing num­ber of arti­cles in the pop­u­lar press men­tion­ing words such as “neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty”, “fMRI” and “cog­ni­tive reserve”, let’s review some key find­ings, con­cepts and terms.

First, a pre­scient quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­a­go Ramon y Cajal (1852–1934): “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”.

fmri.jpgThanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, regard­ed “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­o­my, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists have been find­ing that the brain has a num­ber of “core capac­i­ties” and “men­tal mus­cles” that can be exer­cised through nov­el­ty, vari­ety and prac­tice, and that exer­cis­ing our brain can influ­ence the gen­er­a­tion of new neu­rons and their con­nec­tions. Brain exer­cise is being rec­og­nized, there­fore, as a crit­i­cal pil­lar of brain health, togeth­er with nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise and stress man­age­ment.

Pre­vi­ous beliefs about our brain and how it works have been proven false. Some beliefs that have been debunked include claims that adult brains can not cre­ate new neu­rons (shown to be false by Berke­ley sci­en­tists Mar­i­an Dia­mond and Mark Rosen­zweig, and Salk Institute’s Fred Gage), notions that work­ing mem­o­ry has a max­i­mum lim­it of 6 or 7 items (debunked by Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute Torkel Kling­berg), and assump­tions that the brain’s basic process­es can not be reor­ga­nized by repeat­ed prac­tice (UCSF’s Drs. Paula Tal­lal and Michael Merzenich). The “men­tal mus­cles” we can train include atten­tion, stress and emo­tion­al man­age­ment, mem­o­ry, visual/ spa­tial, audi­to­ry process­es and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and prob­lem-solv­ing.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion is impor­tant if done in the right sup­port­ive and engag­ing envi­ron­ment. Stanford’s Robert Sapol­sky has proven that chron­ic stress and cor­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion, which may be aggra­vat­ed due to imposed men­tal stim­u­la­tion, may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Hav­ing the right moti­va­tion is essen­tial.

A sur­pris­ing and promis­ing area of sci­en­tif­ic inquiry is Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR). An increas­ing num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists (such as Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard David­son) are inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­i­ty of trained med­i­ta­tors to devel­op and sus­tain atten­tion and visu­al­iza­tions and to work pos­i­tive­ly with pow­er­ful emo­tion­al states and stress through the direct­ed men­tal process­es of med­i­ta­tion prac­tices.

And now, some key­words:

Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: struc­tured set of brain exer­cis­es, usu­al­ly com­put­er-based, designed to train spe­cif­ic brain areas and process­es in tar­get­ed ways.

Chron­ic Stress: ongo­ing, long-term stress, which blocks the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons and Read the rest of this entry »

Stress and Short Term Memory

We all know chron­ic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our mem­o­ry? Inter­est­ing­ly, acute stress can help you focus and remem­ber things more vivid­ly. Chron­ic stress, on the oth­er hand, reduces your abil­i­ty to focus and can specif­i­cal­ly dam­age cells in the hip­pocam­pus, a brain struc­ture crit­i­cal to encod­ing short term mem­o­ry.

When is stress chron­ic? When you feel out of con­trol of your life. You may feel irri­ta­ble or anx­ious. While every indi­vid­ual varies in their response the type and quan­ti­ty of stress, there are some things you can do to feel more in con­trol of your envi­ron­ment. This sense of empow­er­ment can low­er your stress, and as a result, help your mem­o­ry.

What are some ways to feel in con­trol and less stressed?

  1. Use a cal­en­dar to sched­ule impor­tant things. Give items a date and a pri­or­i­ty.
  2. Make a list of things that need to be done. Even if it’s a long list, it can be reward­ing to cross off items as you com­plete them.
  3. Use a con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice like yoga or med­i­ta­tion to calm your mind and body or try using a heart rate vari­abil­i­ty sen­sor to learn to relax and focus your mind and body.
  4. Ask your­self how impor­tant some­thing tru­ly is to you. Maybe you’re stress­ing over some­thing that you are bet­ter off just let­ting go.
  5. Del­e­gate what you can.
  6. Get reg­u­lar exer­cise to burn off those excess stress hor­mones.
  7. Get enough sleep so that you can recharge your bat­ter­ies.
  8. Eat well and reduce your caf­feine and sug­ar intake which can add to your sense of jit­ter­i­ness.
  9. Main­tain your social net­work. Shar­ing con­cerns with friends and fam­i­ly can help you feel less over­whelmed.
  10. Give your­self 10 min­utes just to relax every day.

Fur­ther Read­ing on Stress and Mem­o­ry
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapol­sky, Ph.D.
A Primer on Mul­ti­task­ing
Sim­ple Stress Test
Quick Stress Buster
Is there such thing as GOOD stress?
Brain Yoga: Stress — Killing You Soft­ly

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