Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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127 scientists challenge the purported brain training “consensus” released by the Stanford Center for Longevity

Open-Letter

Sci­en­tists to Stan­ford: Research Shows Brain Exer­cis­es Can Work (Press release):

A group of 127 sci­en­tists sent an “open let­ter” to the Stan­ford Cen­ter for Longevi­ty, today, in reac­tion to a recent state­ment by the cen­ter that was high­ly crit­i­cal of the emerg­ing sci­ence of brain train­ing and dero­gat­ed the effi­ca­cy of all brain exercises…The let­ter is signed by 127 doc­tors and sci­en­tists, many of whom are lumi­nar­ies in the field of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty – the dis­ci­pline that exam­ines the brain’s abil­i­ty to change. Sig­na­to­ries include mem­bers of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, mem­bers of the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine, Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers

Dr. Michael Merzenich Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at UCSF, is a lead­ing pio­neer in brain plas­tic­i­ty research. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invent­ed the cochlear implant. In 1996, he was the found­ing CEO of Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (Nas­daq: SCIL), and in 2004 became co-founder and Chief Sci­en­tif­ic Offi­cer of Posit Sci­ence. He was elect­ed to the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in 1999 and to the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine this year. He retired as Fran­cis A. Sooy Pro­fes­sor and Co-Direc­tor of the Keck Cen­ter for Inte­gra­tive Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cis­co in 2007. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV spe­cials, mul­ti­ple media appear­ances, or neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-relat­ed books.

(Alvaro Fer­nan­dez) Dear Michael, thank you very much for agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the inau­gur­al Sharp­Brains Vir­tu­al Sum­mit in Jan­u­ary, and for your time today. In order to con­tex­tu­al­ize the Summit’s main themes, I would like to focus this inter­view on the like­ly big-pic­ture impli­ca­tions dur­ing the next 5 years of your work and that of oth­er neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty research and indus­try pio­neers.

Thank you for invit­ing me. I believe the Sharp­Brains Sum­mit will be very use­ful and stim­u­lat­ing, you are gath­er­ing an impres­sive group togeth­er. I am look­ing for­ward to Jan­u­ary.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-based Tools: The New Health & Well­ness Fron­tier

There are many dif­fer­ent tech­nol­o­gy-free approach­es to harnessing/ enabling/ dri­ving neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty. What is the val­ue that tech­nol­o­gy brings to the cog­ni­tive health table?

It’s all about effi­cien­cy, scal­a­bil­i­ty, per­son­al­iza­tion, and assured effec­tive­ness. Tech­nol­o­gy sup­ports the imple­men­ta­tion of near-opti­mal­ly-effi­cient brain-train­ing strate­gies. Through the Inter­net, it enables the low-cost dis­tri­b­u­tion of these new tools, any­where out in the world. Tech­nol­o­gy also enables the per­son­al­iza­tion of brain health train­ing, by pro­vid­ing sim­ple ways to mea­sure and address indi­vid­ual needs in each person’s brain-health train­ing expe­ri­ence. It enables assess­ments of your abil­i­ties that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effec­tive­ly addressed.

Of course sub­stan­tial gains could also be achieved by orga­niz­ing your every­day activ­i­ties that grow your neu­ro­log­i­cal abil­i­ties and sus­tain your brain health. Still, if the ordi­nary cit­i­zen is to have any real chance of main­tain­ing their brain fit­ness, they’re going to have to spend con­sid­er­able time at the brain gym!

One espe­cial­ly impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy is the scal­a­bil­i­ty that it pro­vides for deliv­er­ing brain fit­ness help out into the world. Think about how effi­cient the drug deliv­ery sys­tem is today. Doc­tors pre­scribe drugs, insur­ance cov­ers them, and there is a drug store in every neigh­bor­hood in almost every city in the world so that every patient has access to them. Once neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty-based tools and out­comes and stan­dard­ized, we can envi­sion a sim­i­lar sce­nario. And we don’t need all those drug stores, because we have the Inter­net!

Hav­ing said this, there are obvi­ous obsta­cles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of under­stand­ing of what these new tools can do. Cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams, for exam­ple, seem counter-intu­itive to con­sumers and many pro­fes­sion­als “ why would one try to improve speed-of-pro­cess­ing if all one cares about is mem­o­ry? A sec­ond obvi­ous prob­lem is to get indi­vid­u­als to buy into the effort required to real­ly change their brains for the bet­ter. That buy-in has been achieved for many indi­vid­u­als as it applies to their phys­i­cal health, but we haven’t got­ten that far yet in edu­cat­ing the aver­age old­er per­son that brain fit­ness train­ing is an equal­ly effort­ful busi­ness!

Tools for Safer Dri­ving: Teens and Adults

Safe dri­ving seems to be one area where the ben­e­fits are more intu­itive, which may explain the sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion.

Yes, we see great poten­tial and inter­est among insur­ers for improv­ing dri­ving safe­ty, both for seniors and teens. Appro­pri­ate cog­ni­tive train­ing can low­er at-fault acci­dent rates. You can mea­sure clear ben­e­fits in rel­a­tive­ly short time frames, so it won’t take long for insur­ers to see an eco­nom­ic ratio­nale to not only offer pro­grams at low cost or for free but to incen­tivize dri­vers to com­plete them. All­state, AAA, State Farm and oth­er insur­ers are begin­ning to real­ize this poten­tial. It is impor­tant to note that typ­i­cal acci­dents among teens and seniors are dif­fer­ent, so that train­ing method­olo­gies will need to be dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent high-risk pop­u­la­tions.

Yet, most dri­ving safe­ty ini­tia­tives today still focus on edu­cat­ing dri­vers, rather that train­ing them neu­ro­log­i­cal­ly. We mea­sure vision, for exam­ple, but com­plete­ly ignore atten­tion­al con­trol abil­i­ties, or a driver’s use­ful field of view. I expect this to change sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the next few years.

Long-term care and health insur­ance com­pa­nies will ulti­mate­ly see sim­i­lar ben­e­fits, and we believe that they will fol­low a sim­i­lar course of action to reduce gen­er­al med­ical and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease- (Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkin­sons-) relat­ed costs. In fact, many senior liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties are among the pio­neers in this field.

Boomers & Beyond: Main­tain­ing Cog­ni­tive Vital­i­ty

Main­stream media is cov­er­ing this emerg­ing cat­e­go­ry with thou­sands of sto­ries. But most cov­er­age seems still focused on does it work? more than “how do we define It”, what does work mean? or work for whom, and for what? Can you sum­ma­rize what recent research sug­gests?

We have seen clear pat­terns in the appli­ca­tion of our train­ing pro­grams, some pub­lished (like IMPACT), some unpub­lished, some with healthy adults, and some with peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment or ear­ly Alzheimers Dis­ease (AD). What we see in every case: Read the rest of this entry »

Preventing Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Stronger Effort Need­ed To Pre­vent Men­tal, Emo­tion­al, And Behav­ioral Dis­or­ders in Young peo­ple, Experts Urge (Sci­ence Dai­ly)

- “The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment should make pre­vent­ing men­tal, emo­tion­al, and behav­ioral dis­or­ders and pro­mot­ing men­tal health in young peo­ple a nation­al pri­or­i­ty, says a new report from the Nation­al Research Coun­cil and Insti­tute of Med­i­cine.”

- “Research has shown that a num­ber of pro­grams are effec­tive at pre­vent­ing these prob­lems and pro­mot­ing men­tal health, the report says. Such pro­grams could be imple­ment­ed more broad­ly, but cur­rent­ly there is no clear fed­er­al pres­ence to lead these efforts.  The White House should cre­ate an enti­ty that can coor­di­nate agency ini­tia­tives in this area, set pub­lic goals for pre­ven­tion, and pro­vide need­ed research and fund­ing to achieve them, said the com­mit­tee that wrote the report.”

- “There is a sub­stan­tial gap between what is known about pre­vent­ing men­tal, emo­tion­al, and behav­ioral dis­or­ders and what is actu­al­ly being done,” said Ken­neth E. Warn­er, com­mit­tee chair and dean of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan School of Pub­lic Health.”

Full report: click Here.

Brain Blogs and Michael Merzenich

Two quick notes:

- Encephalon #56 edi­tion: the lat­est edi­tion of this neu­ro­science and psy­chol­o­gy blog car­ni­val is ready for your read­ing plea­sure.
- Michael Merzenich Elect­ed to Insti­tute of Med­i­cine: Con­grat­u­la­tions! “The Insti­tute of Medicine’s total active mem­ber­ship is now 1,576 and the num­ber of for­eign asso­ciates is 89. With anoth­er 71 mem­bers hold­ing emer­i­tus sta­tus, IOM’s total mem­ber­ship is now 1,736. Estab­lished in 1970 by the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine is a nation­al resource for inde­pen­dent, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly informed analy­sis and rec­om­men­da­tions on issues relat­ed to human health. With their elec­tion, mem­bers make a com­mit­ment to devote a sig­nif­i­cant amount of vol­un­teer time as mem­bers of IOM study com­mit­tees.”
You may have seen him talk­ing about neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty in the PBS spe­cial titled Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram.

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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