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Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Travel and Engagement as Good Brain Exercise

University of Namibia

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is defined as “the abil­i­ty of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence”.

We typ­i­cal­ly sum­ma­rize a lot of brain research by encour­ag­ing Sharp­Brains read­ers is to seek for nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge, as guide­lines for “brain exer­cise” that will help build new con­nec­tions in the brain, force one to be mind­ful and pay atten­tion, improve abil­i­ties such as pat­tern-recog­ni­tion, and in gen­er­al con­tribute to life­long brain health.

A friend just sent an update on her amaz­ing expe­ri­ence in Namib­ia (the pic on the right shows the entrance to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Namib­ia) that shows how Trav­el and Engage­ment with mean­ing­ful projects can pro­vide superb men­tal stim­u­la­tion, or “brain exer­cise”. This is rel­e­vant at all ages, and we are encour­aged to see orga­ni­za­tions such as Civic Ven­tures and Elder­hos­tel that offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for baby boomers and old­er adults who want to main­tain active minds.

Try pic­tur­ing in your mind, as you read this, all her dif­fer­ent brain areas that are get­ting need­ed stim­u­la­tion through her Namib­ia expe­ri­ence.

UPDATE: my friend just wrote to expand on the “be mind­ful” angle by say­ing that “it def­i­nite­ly requires pur­pose­ful pro­cess­ing of the infor­ma­tion that you are con­sum­ing in order to make it a use­ful brain exer­cise. For exam­ple, I always try to jour­nal or write thought­ful emails about my expe­ri­ence in order to try to best under­stand it.” Great point.

With her per­mis­sion, here you have:

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Dear Friends,

I am just return­ing from Namib­ia and am buzzing with excite­ment about all of the oppor­tu­ni­ties for us to make an impact there when we return with our stu­dents next Spring.

Namib­ia is very dif­fer­ent than I expect­ed. It was the last coun­try in Africa to gain inde­pen­dence from colo­nial­ism, gain­ing inde­pen­dence just 20 years ago. Thus, it is much more devel­oped than any African coun­try that I have vis­it­ed, with rel­a­tive­ly good infra­struc­ture and no exist­ing debt. That said, the lega­cies of apartheid can still be felt in today’s soci­ety, and the peo­ple are very clear­ly deal­ing con­stant­ly with issues of race and iden­ti­ty. One of the most inter­est­ing expe­ri­ences that I had was attend­ing a “braai” (the Namib­ian ver­sion of a bar­be­cue which basi­cal­ly con­sists of Read the rest of this entry »

The Alfred Nobel legacy: 2007 Nobel Prizes

Alfred NobelIn 1895, this will by Alfred Nobel cre­at­ed the Nobel Prizes. One page worth read­ing, with this core para­graph:

The whole of my remain­ing real­iz­able estate shall be dealt with in the fol­low­ing way: the cap­i­tal, invest­ed in safe secu­ri­ties by my execu­tors, shall con­sti­tute a fund, the inter­est on which shall be annu­al­ly dis­trib­uted in the form of prizes to those who, dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year, shall have con­ferred the great­est ben­e­fit on mankind. The said inter­est shall be divid­ed into five equal parts, which shall be appor­tioned as fol­lows: one part to the per­son who shall have made the most impor­tant dis­cov­ery or inven­tion with­in the field of physics; one part to the per­son who shall have made the most impor­tant chem­i­cal dis­cov­ery or improve­ment; one part to the per­son who shall have made the most impor­tant dis­cov­ery with­in the domain of phys­i­ol­o­gy or med­i­cine; one part to the per­son who shall have pro­duced in the field of lit­er­a­ture the most out­stand­ing work in an ide­al direc­tion; and one part to the per­son who shall have done the most or the best work for fra­ter­ni­ty between nations, for the abo­li­tion or reduc­tion of stand­ing armies and for the hold­ing and pro­mo­tion of peace con­gress­es. The prizes for physics and chem­istry shall be award­ed by the Swedish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences; that for phys­i­o­log­i­cal or med­ical work by the Car­o­line Insti­tute in Stock­holm; that for lit­er­a­ture by the Acad­e­my in Stock­holm, and that for cham­pi­ons of peace by a com­mit­tee of five per­sons to be elect­ed by the Nor­we­gian Stort­ing. It is my express wish that in award­ing the prizes no con­sid­er­a­tion what­ev­er shall be giv­en to the nation­al­i­ty of the can­di­dates, but that the most wor­thy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scan­di­na­vian or not.”

The Nobel Foun­da­tion has start­ed to announce 2007 Lau­re­ates. So far:

- Nobel Prize in Phys­i­ol­o­gy or Med­i­cine: Mario R. Capec­chi, Mar­tin J. Evans and Oliv­er Smithies for pro­duc­ing spe­cif­ic genet­ic alter­ations in mice.

- Nobel Prize in Physics: Albert Fert and Peter Gru­en­berg for dis­cov­er­ing the effect under­ly­ing data stor­age on most hard disks.

As we dis­cussed yes­ter­day, 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 at the 2007 Aspen Health Forum had been inspired by the Sput­nik and the Apol­lo mis­sions to become sci­en­tists. Two pre­vi­ous 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 were grate­ful to the tax­pay­ers dol­lars that fund­ed their research, and insist­ed we must do a bet­ter job at explain­ing the sci­en­tif­ic process to soci­ety at large. Both were proud of hav­ing attend­ed small lib­er­al arts col­leges, and hav­ingSputnik 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.

The Nobel Prizes, what a beau­ti­ful tra­di­tion. What a beau­ti­ful meme.

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 @ Education, Training, Health events

Brain Fitness eventsIn what cat­e­go­ry does Brain Fit­ness fit? Edu­ca­tion, Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and Train­ing, Health? Most of the inter­est so far has come from a Healthy Aging angle, but we are start­ing to see broad­er inter­est, as in the events below. After all, isn’t work­ing on our brains rel­e­vant to all those mar­kets?.

2 busy weeks: I am attending/ speak­ing at a vari­ety of events. I will make sure to blog at least the take-aways from the main events dai­ly, and Car­o­line will also add her per­spec­tive as much as pos­si­ble.

A) Octo­ber 3–6th: The Aspen Health Forum at the Aspen Insti­tute

B) Octo­ber 9th: First ses­sion of my class The Sci­ence of Brain Health and Brain Fit­ness at the UC-Berke­ley Osh­er Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute (OLLI)

C) Octo­ber 10th: Teach­ing Brain Fit­ness in Your Com­mu­ni­ty, work­shop at an Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging (ASA) con­fer­ence for health pro­fes­sion­als

D) Octo­ber 10th: Sci­ence at Work, Inter­view at the event The Future of Work: Ampli­fied Indi­vid­u­als, Ampli­fied Orga­ni­za­tions, orga­nized by the Insti­tute for the Future

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A) Octo­ber 3–6th: The Aspen Health Forum at the Aspen Insti­tute. This promis­es to be a fas­ci­nat­ing event. See below the pan­els I am attending‑I will make sure to write some notes every day to keep you in the dis­cus­sion.

Wednes­day Octo­ber 3rd:

Great Expec­ta­tions: Amer­i­can Atti­tudes toward Per­son­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Med­i­cine

Health­care Re-Imag­ined: Learn­ing from Olympic Ath­letes

Thurs­day 4th:

The Dam­aged Brain: The Fight Against Neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion

The Human Ele­ment: A Can­did Con­ver­sa­tion about Pio­neers of Mod­ern Med­i­cine

The Last Fron­tier: The Mind

Glob­al Sci­en­tif­ic Invest­ment

Sci­ence Ver­sus the Bio­log­i­cal Clock Read the rest of this entry »

Brains Way Smarter Than Ours (and yours, probably)

Brain Health NewsRoundup of recent arti­cles:

1) Awards

-Very smart brains: Fun Slate arti­cle, Sev­en Inge­nious Rules: How to become a MacArthur genius, once the 24 new MacArthur Fel­lows were announced (Dear read­er: if you are a past, present or future win­ner, please for­give me for the title).

-The Tech Muse­um of Inno­va­tion Announces 2007 Awards (we had been nom­i­nat­ed, did­n’t win).

2) Encour­ag­ing for the whole field: NASDAQ and Neu­roIn­sights Launch­ing Neu­rotech Index.

3) Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Prod­ucts: Hype or Hope for Main­tain­ing Inde­pen­dence?.

Great June arti­cle we had missed, includ­ing a link to a 23-page PDF overview: Intel­lec­tu­al Func­tion­ing in Adult­hood: Growth, Main­te­nance, Decline and Mod­i­fi­a­bil­i­ty by K. Warn­er Shaie & Sher­ry L. Willis (San Fran­cis­co: Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging, 2005).

4) Mil­i­tary Backs Reforms: “The mil­i­tary will expand psy­cho­log­i­cal screen­ing for both new recruits and active-duty ser­vice mem­bers, and will make safe­guard­ing men­tal health part of the core train­ing for lead­ers”.

5) Ed Boy­den, who leads the MIT leads the Neu­ro­engi­neer­ing and Neu­ro­me­dia Group, has a new neu­rotech­nol­o­gy blog.

6) More blog car­ni­vals: Edu­ca­tion, Tan­gled Bank (Sci­ence).

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.

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