Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Improving Brain Health Outcomes with Tech, Incentives and Comparative Effectiveness Research

Malpractice Methodology (New York Times OpEd by Peter Orszag)

Right now, health care is more evidence-free than you might think. And even where evidence-based clinical guidelines exist, research suggests that doctors follow them only about half of the time. One estimate suggests that it takes 17 years on average to incorporate new research findings into widespread practice. As a result, any clinical guidelines that exist often have limited impact. How might we encourage doctors to adopt new evidence more quickly?

If this is the case with health care overall, despite much progress over the last 30-40 years, imagine how worse it may be when we talk about brain health, when neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience are relatively more recent disciplines.

This is a key insight to keep in mind as we debate the value and limitations of innovative brain health solutions, especially those that are non-invasive and have no negative side effects:  what matters most to actual human beings living today is how those tools and solutions seem to perform, based on best evidence, compared to alternatives available today — not compared to Platonic ideals about research and practice which may exist in our minds but not in the real, empirical world. Of course we then need to guide research so that we have better evidence in the future, but progress must occur in parallel and reinforce each other: progress in practice and in research.

The OpEd author then proceeds to defend malpractice reform as the primary way to do so. This may well be so with healthcare as a whole, but when we are talking about brain care I believe his next 2 proposals are more directly relevant: Read the rest of this entry »

The Future of Cognitive Enhancement and Mental Health: Meet the Experts

Since 2006, as part of the research supporting The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness and SharpBrains’ market reports, we have interviewed dozens of leading-edge scientists and experts. Below are some of our favorite quotes and interviews — you can read the full interview notes by clicking on the links:

Conversations in 2010

“…putting good evidence to work in practice requires more than publishing good research. I’d say that scientific evidence is directly relevant to perhaps 15% of clinical decisions…we require technologies that translate emergent knowledge into prac­tice.” – Dr. John Docherty, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Medical College, and former Branch Chief at NIMH.
Full Interview Notes.
“We should be thinking about the brain through its whole lifetime…We need to break the silos, to aggregate knowledge, to help advance our knowledge of the brain 50 years in 5 years.” – Patrick Dono­hue, founder of the Sarah Jane Brain Project.
Full Interview Notes.

Conversations in 2009

My dream in all of this is to have standardized and credible tools to train the 5–6 main neurocognitive domains for cogni tive health and performance through life, coupled with the right assessments to identify one’s individ ual needs and mea sure progress” – Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emeritus Professor at UCSF, and pioneer in brain plasticity research.
Full Interview Notes.
“We have an opportunity to make major progress in Brain Health in the XXI century, similar to what happened with Car­diovascular Health in the XX, and technology will play a crucial role.” – Dr. William E. Reich­man, President and CEO of Baycrest.
Full Interview Notes.
Growth only really comes at the point of resis­tance, but that is the moment that we tend to stop. Because it hurts…pushing our limits is a muscle that can be cultivated like any other–incrementally” – Joshua Waitzkin, chess champion and author of The Art of Learning.
Full Interview Notes.
“The correlation between identical twins reared apart gives an overestimate of heritability because the environments of iden tical twins reared apart are often highly similar. But the main contradiction of heritability estimates lies in the fact that adoption produces a huge effect on IQ” -Dr. Richard Nisbett, Professor at University of Michigan and author of Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count.
Full Interview Notes.

For more, please visit our Neuroscience Interview Series.

Update: Innovation to Upgrade Brain Care

Here you have the July107px-gray1197thumbnail edition of our monthly eNewslet ter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics. Please remem ber that you can subscribe to receive this free Brain Fitness eNewsletter by email, using the box in the right column.

Technology to upgrade brain care: In this extensive interview, Dr. John Docherty helps connect the dots on why new frameworks and tools are a must to put recent brain research to good use. A must read for all professionals in the field.


Findings from NIH Expert Panel: The American Society on Aging asked Alvaro Fernandez to comment on the findings from a major cognitive health research review by the National Institutes of Health. Lifestyle still matters, and protective factors against cognitive decline are led by cognitive training, physical activity and cognitive engagement.

Scientific critique of BBC brain training experiment: Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski shares her concerns about the April 2010 BBC study, which included substantial and unexplained dropout rates, and questionable outcome measurement and interpretation.

The value of being bilingual and building a Cognitive Reserve to preserve learning and memory even in the face of brain damage are explored in recent studies.

San Francisco Bay Area study seeks participants: The Gazzaley Lab at UCSF is looking for participants aged 20-59 to explore the impact of distraction and multitasking on performance across the lifespan.


What impressed Innovation Awards Judging Panel: Get some insight into what most impressed the Judging Panel about each Winner and Finalist of the 2010 Brain Fitness Innovation Awards.

New – SharpBrains’ 2010 Market Report:  SharpBrains’ flagship, 207-page, third annual market report finds continued growth for digital technologies to assess, enhance and treat cognition.

To manage brain fitness through life, we need to put puzzle pieces together: innovative tools to help us better monitor our cognitive health and take informed action are badly needed….and already emerging.

The internet will fry your brain. Sure: In his latest book, Nicholas Carr does a great job highlighting the implications of lifelong neuro­plasticity, but picks the wrong enemy.

“Serious Games”:  Can video games inspire people to perform acts of altruism? Kyle Smith reports.


Yahoo Optical Illusions and teasers: Yahoo! has created an expanded section of illusions and teasers, and we were glad to contribute to it. Enjoy…and have a great summer!

Technology as the missing link to enable a brain-based model of brain care: interview with Dr. John Docherty

Dr. John Docherty is an Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the Weill Medical College, Cornell University, Director of Post Graduate Education there, and Chief Medical Officer of Brain Resource. Trained as a clinical research fellow in neuropsychopharmacology at NIMH, he later returned as Chief of the Psychosocial Treatments Research Branch, responsible for all federally supported psychosocial treatment research in mental health nationwide. He oversaw the landmark National Collaborative Study of the Treatment of Depression and served as a member and Chairman for over 10 years on the NIMH and then NIDA Treatment Research IRGs. Dr. Docherty has wide experience in successfully implementing innovation in both clinical operations and managed health care. He founded Northeast Psychiatric Associates in 1985. As National Medical Director for National Medical Enterprises, he oversaw medical control and quality improvement in 74 hospitals in 34 states. He was the Executive Vice-President and Chief Medical Officer for Merit Behavioral Care, which then covered 30 million people. In 1998, he founded Comprehensive NeuroScience (CNS). Its Care Management Technologies are currently implemented in 17 state Medicaid plans. Dr Docherty has received numerous honors and awards and has authored over 100 scientific publications.

(Editor’s note: this interview with Dr. John Docherty was originally published in SharpBrains’ market report Transforming Brain Health with Digital Tools to Assess, Enhance and Treat Cognition across the Lifespan, published in July 2010)

Alvaro Fernandez: Dr. Docherty, it is a pleasure to be with you today to discuss the main theme of SharpBrains’ 2010 market report – how the convergence of scientific findings and technology platforms and tools is reshaping how as a society and as individuals we will take care of cognition and mental wellness along the lifecourse, giving birth to the emerging digital brain health and fitness market. Can you first briefly discuss your career trajectory and your current role at Brain Resource?

Dr. John Docherty: Sure. The main theme of my work since the 1960s has remained the same, “How do we put knowledge into effective use to improve mental health?” Over the last century, medicine made tremendous progress in generating scientific and clinical knowledge. Basic research discovery science and clinical treatment development science have made great progress. Within Psychiatry there was standard setting advance in the 1960’s through the NIMH-VA cooperative studies to the methodology of assessing the efficacy of psychopharmacological drugs. This work established principles adopted for the study of medications in the other areas of medicine. The study of psychotherapy, however, lagged in development. In my role of Chief of the Psychosocial Treatments Branch of the NIMH , I helped contribute to the advance of that work by supporting the efforts of an extraordinary group of individuals led by Irene Waskow who carried out the TDCRP. This study established the methodologies that made possible the effective scientific study of the efficacy of psychotherapies. The evidence base and of such treatments as CBT, DBT, Motivational Enhancement Treatment and other evidence-based psychotherapies derives directly from this study and its seminal influence. This was a contribution to the science of Clinical Treatment Development research.

I would say that my major interest, however, has been in the next step, the science of knowledge transfer. There has been and remains a long and costly (in terms particularly of unnecessary suffering) lag between the development of new knowledge and its common and effective use in practice.

In order the help the field moved forward, I have worked for the last 20 years in the development and implementation of methods to effectively transfer knowledge into practice. Read the rest of this entry »

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