Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Lumos Labs (Lumosity) Brain Training Games

Press release: Here

— “Lumos Labs, developer of, 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 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. 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 (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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