Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain teaser to test your multi-tasking skills and improve concentration


How often do you review and com­ment on a doc­u­ment while talk­ing on the phone with a col­league about an unre­lat­ed mat­ter? Or think about your prob­lems at work while help­ing your child with his home­work? Read the rest of this entry »

Brain fitness tips to improve concentration and memory

Tips-on-How-to-Improve-Memory

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Concentration–or atten­tion– and mem­o­ry are two cru­cial men­tal skills and are direct­ly relat­ed. In fact, many mem­o­ry com­plaints have noth­ing to do with the actu­al abil­i­ty to remem­ber things: They come from a fail­ure to focus prop­er­ly on the task at hand.

For exam­ple, when you don’t remem­ber where you parked your car Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Enhancement via Magic Pills? likely not soon

Excel­lent Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can cov­er sto­ry:

Tur­bocharg­ing the Brain–Pills to Make You Smarter?

Will a pill at break­fast improve con­cen­tra­tion and memory—and will it do so with­out long-term detri­ment to your health?”

Their answer, in short: not real­ly, not any­time soon.

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s pay real atten­tion to non-inva­sive options to aug­ment cog­ni­tion, from exer­cise to cog­ni­tive train­ing and med­i­ta­tion.

For more con­text, you may enjoy my recent arti­cle Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age, pub­lished in Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science.

Brain Quiz: Do You Have a Brain?

Have you already read The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness?

Let’s see…brain health and brain fitness

1. Pick the only part of your body that does not con­tain fat:

a. Arm
b. Thigh
c. Brain
d. None

Answer: d) Fats are also present in the brain: in neu­rons’ mem­branes to keep them flex­i­ble. These fats are the omega 3 and omega 6 fat­ty acids mol­e­cules. (Page 32 of the book)

2. Pick the only food prod­uct that doesn’t con­tain Omega-3 fat­ty acids

a. Tuna
b. Wal­nut
c. Kiwi
d. Jel­ly Beans

Answer: d) Fat­ty acids can be found in cold-water fish (such as mack­er­el, her­ring, salmon, and tuna), kiwi, and wal­nuts. (Page 33)

3. Pick the only food prod­uct that doesn’t con­tain antiox­i­dants

a. Olive oil
b. Milk
c. Nuts
d. Berries

Answer: b) Antiox­i­dants can be found in veg­etable oils, nuts, green leafy veg­eta­bles (e.g., spinach), cit­rus fruit, and berries. (Page 33)

4. Chron­ic Stress can­not:

a. Pre­vent you from being cre­ative
b. Kill brain cells
c. Pre­vent you from sleep­ing
d. Kill liv­er cells

Answer: d) Pro­longed expo­sure to adren­al steroid hor­mones like cor­ti­sol, which is released into the blood stream when we are stressed, can lead to cell death and block the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons. (Page 35)

5. What type of phys­i­cal exer­cise is the best for your brain health?

a. Weight lift­ing
b. Aer­o­bic exer­cis­es
c. Flex­i­bil­i­ty exer­cis­es Read the rest of this entry »

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?)

The grow­ing field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (one of the tools for brain fit­ness) can appear very con­fus­ing as the media keeps report­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry claims. These claims are often based on press releas­es, with­out a deep­er eval­u­a­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence.

Let’s take a cou­ple of recent exam­ples, in suc­ces­sive days:

It doesn’t work!” type of head­line:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  For­mal brain exer­cise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy old­er peo­ple shouldn’t both­er spend­ing mon­ey on com­put­er games and web­sites promis­ing to ward off men­tal decline, the author of a review of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence for the ben­e­fits of these “brain exer­cise” pro­grams says.

It works! type of head­line:
Sci­enceDai­ly (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Com­put­er Exer­cis­es Improve Mem­o­ry And Atten­tion, Study Sug­gests”
Accord­ing to the researchers, par­tic­i­pants who used the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram also scored as well as those ten years younger, on aver­age, on mem­o­ry and atten­tion tests for which they did not train.

So, does struc­tured brain exer­cise / cog­ni­tive train­ing work or not?

The prob­lem may in fact reside in ask­ing this very ques­tion in the first place, as Alvaro point­ed out a while ago in his arti­cle Alzheimer’s Dis­ease: too seri­ous to play with head­lines.

We need a more nuanced set of ques­tions.

Why? Because:
1. Cog­ni­tion is made of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties (work­ing mem­o­ry, atten­tion, exec­u­tive func­tions such as deci­sion-mak­ing, etc)
2. Avail­able train­ing pro­grams do not all train the same abil­i­ties
3. Users of train­ing pro­grams do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between enhanc­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions and delay­ing the onset of cog­ni­tive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illus­trate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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