Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


AARP’s Best Books Series: Brain Fitness

We are pleased to report that the AARP’s Best Books Series: Brain Fitness List (link opens PDF document you can view, download and print at AARP website) is finally officially available, described as “a listing for public libraries of well-prepared books on maintaining a sharp and fit mind throughout the aging process.” Read the rest of this entry »

Update: 15 FAQs on Neuroplasticity / Brain Plasticity

Here you have the October edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics.

We recently run an online survey among subscribers of our monthly eNewsletter, and over 500 people neuroplasticity faqssaid we have helped them make better personal or professional decisions on how to maintain and improve brain fitness. Respondents also had many good questions to ask, so I have selected 15 common ones, paraphrased/ synthesized them below, and answered them by linking to our most relevant posts and resources. I hope you enjoy the FAQ session.

Q: I teach a brain fitness class at my library/ senior center/ school, using much of your info. Can you share some of your presentations?
A: Yes, we have just decided to share, using a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives License, the full presentation of my recent book talk at New York Public Library (opens video in YouTube). As long as you give credit to SharpBrains and don’t modify it, you are free to use the presentation you can view and download HERE.

Q: What exactly does neuroplasticity neurons in actionmean, and why is it so important for education and health?
A: Start by reading how learning changes your brain.

Q. Is this only relevant for older adults? Can I also apply it in the workplace (I am 47)
A. I strongly suspect you do have a human brain, so you may benefit from these Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains. Further, HR departments would do well to start paying more attention to Cognitive Fitness and the Mature Workforce trends.

Q. I read so many conflicting things I don’t know where to start.
A. You are not alone. We should all be aware that It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Maintenance: Brain Care 101.

Q. How can my organization deliver brain fitness activities as a community service?
A. These articles will provide good guidelines and ideas: Retooling Use It or Lose It , and Public Libraries: Community-Based Health Clubs for the Brain.

Q. Everyone seems obsessed with brain games. What about meditation?
A. Check out Yes, You Can Build Willpower, and Mindfulness Meditation in Schools.

Q. Are software-based cognitive interventions effective?
A. As a category, it certainly seems so, as long as we ask the right questions, For Whom, For What?. For example, did you see this Science paper on how Cognitive Training Can Influence Dopamine System?.

Q. What about the trade-off between time invested vs benefits realized.
A. Efficiency and replicability of cognitive and brain-based outcomes seem to be, in fact, the strongest points of structured cognitive interventions. They seem to maximize the Cognitive Value of your Mental Workout.

Q. It sometimes looks like the whole field came out of nowhere, due to Nintendo Brain Age’s success, so we can’t be talking about something serious.

A: Nintendo did indeed create consumer awareness (for a product with little evidence) but “brain training” has solid roots in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, as you can read in our interview with Elkhonon Goldberg.

Q. What about neurofeedback?
A. After years of much clinical use and little solid evidence, several important trials have been published since 2009, showing how neurofeedback can help diagnose and treat ADHD patients, for example.

Q. How can one improve memory?

A. Well, the answer deserves a whole book, but we can offer some Tips to Improve Memory including Sleep, Practice and Testing.

Q. How can I brain fitness bookschoose one among the number of products making memory and brain claims?
A. We suggest you use this Evaluation checklist, and consider reading our consumer guide/ book.

Q. Any general tips for educators and lifelong learners?
A. Indeed, here you have these 10 Brain Tips to Teach and Learn.

Q. How can I keep track of all the new brain fitness market infographictrends, companies and products? Our health system/ insurer/ senior community/ venture firm/ company needs to make good decisions.
A. Well, that’s why we publish market research, such as the one summarized in this Infographic: State of the Market 2009 and also recently launched a professional Network for Brain Fitness Innovation.

Q: Thank you for all the information you provide…but what I want more of is… brain teasers!
A. Understood. We will make sure to offer more, but you can try, right now, these Top 50 Brain Teasers and continue with more recent puzzles and brain games.

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)

Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting Cognition(Editor’s note: this article belongs to the excellent May 2009 special issue on Augmenting Cognition at scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. The article, an industry overview, is reproduced here with authorization by the Frontiers Research Foundation)

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age

By Alvaro Fernandez

Groundbreaking cognitive neuroscience research has occurred over the last 20 years – without parallel growth of consumer awareness and appropriate professional dissemination. “Cognition” remains an elusive concept with unclear implications outside the research community.

Earlier this year, I presented a talk to health care professionals at the New York Academy of Medicine, titled “Brain Fitness Software: Helping Consumers Separate Hope from Hype”. I explained what computerized cognitive assessment and training tools can do (assess/enhance specific cognitive functions), what they cannot do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the current uncertainties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symptoms). At the same symposium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center, provided guidance on why and how to screen for executive function deficits in the context of dementia.

I could perceive two emerging trends at the event: 1) “Augmenting Cognition” research is most commonly framed as a healthcare, often pharmacological topic, with the traditional cognitive bias in medicine of focusing on detection and treatment of disease, 2) In addition, there is a growing interest in non-invasive enhancement options and overall lifestyle issues. Research findings in Augmenting Cognition are only just beginning to reach the mainstream marketplace, mostly through healthcare channels. The opportunity is immense, but we will need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels.

In January 2009, we polled the 21,000 subscribers of SharpBrains’ market research eNewsletter to identify attitudes and behaviors towards the “brain fitness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a number of consumer surveys and focus groups to connect with a wider audience). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key questions we asked was, “What is the most important problem you see in the brain fitness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some examples of the survey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most important problems in the brain fitness field

Public awareness (39%): “To get people to understand that heredity alone does not decide brain functioning”. We need to ramp up efforts to build public awareness and enthusiasm about brain research, including establishing clear links to daily living. We can collaborate with initiatives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Week and use the recent “Neuroscience Core Concepts” materials developed by the Society for Neuroscience to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of standards and clear definitions is very confusing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Public Libraries as Health Clubs for the Brain

Here you have the July edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Public libraries have long offered the public more than books. And now, recent demographic and scientific trends are converging to fundamentally transform the role of libraries in our culture. You may enjoy reading this recent article I wrote for the May-June 2009 Issue of Aging Today, the bimonthly publication of the American Society on Aging: Public Libraries: Community-Based Health Clubs for the Brain.

The Big Picture

Can You Outsmart Your Genes? An Interview with Author Richard Nisbett: David DiSalvo interviews Richard Nisbett, the author of Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, who has emerged as a persuasive voice marshalling evidence to disprove the heredity-is-destiny argument.

Yes, You Can Build Willpower: Daniel Goleman discusses how the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day, how they migrate to where they are needed, and how each cell can make around 10,000 connections to other brain cells. Implication? Meditate, mindfully, and build positive habits.

Bird’s Eye View of Cognitive Health Innovation: Alvaro Fernandez opened the Cognitive Health Track during the Games for Health Conference (June 11-12th, Boston) with an overview of the serious games, software and online applications that can help assess and train cognitive abilities. The presentation is available Here.

Brain Tests and Myths

The Best Memory Tests, from the Alzheimer’s Action Plan: Dr. Murali Doraiswamy discusses the Pros and Cons of the most common assessments to identify cognitive problems, including what the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) does and doesn´t, and innovative computerized neuropsychological tests.

Debunking 10 Brain Health Myths: Does your brain have a “Brain Age”? Is a Magic Pill to “prevent memory problems” right around the corner? Does “aging” equal “decline”? Check out the facts to debunk 10 common myths on brain health.


Free Webinar: On July 21st, 10am Pacific Time/ 1pm Eastern Time, Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez, co-authors of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, will cover the main highlights from this new book and address the questions submitted by readers. You can learn more and register HERE.

Research References:  This is a partial list of the scientific studies reviewed during the research phase of SharpBrains’s new book, organized by relevant chapter, for those of you who like to explore topics in depth by reading original research (perhaps PubMed should promote itself as a never ending source of mental stimulation?).

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers on Brain Fitness: Are you ready to test your knowledge of several key brain fitness metrics? For example: How many soldiers in the US Army have gone through computerized cognitive testing before being deployed, and why?
Finally, a request: if you have already read The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, and could write a brief customer review at, we would surely appreciate! The book page is Here.

Best regards, and enjoy the month

Cognitive News November-December 2008

Here you have several recent articles and developments worthy of attention:Brain Health News

1) Boom times for brain training games (CNN)
2) Navigating the brain fitness landscape: do’s and don’ts (McKnight’s Long Term Care News)
3) USA Hockey and Intelligym (press release)
4) Brain Fitness at New York Public Library (NYPL blog)
5) McDonnell Foundation grant harnesses cognitive science to improve student learning (press release)
6) Health insurance firms offering online cognitive therapy for insomnia (Los Angeles Times)
7) HeadMinder Cognitive Stability Index: Computerized Neurocognitive … (Press release)
9) Working Later in Life May Facilitate Neural Health (Cerebrum)
10) The Cool Factor: Never Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

Links, selected quotes and commentary: Read the rest of this entry »

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