—> Join Live Q&A with Dr. Gary Small by clicking HERE, today November 1st at 11am Pacific Time/ 2pm Eastern Time. Chat about memory, memory techniques and brain-healthy lifestyles with Dr. Small, Director of UCLA’s Memory Clinic and Center on Aging and author of The Memory Bible. You can also learn more about the Brain Fitness Q&A Series.
A few eternal questions:
— Is caffeine good for the brain?
— Does it boost cognitive functions?
— Does it protect against dementia?
There is little doubt that drinking that morning cup of coffee will likely increase alertness, but the main questions that research is trying to answer go beyond that. Basically: is there a sustained, lifetime, benefit or harm from drinking coffee regularly?
The answer, so far, contains good news and bad news. The good news for coffee drinkers is that most of the long-term results are directionally more positive than negative, so no clear harm seems to occur. The bad news is that it is not clear so far whether caffeine has beneficial effects on general brain functions, either short-term or long-term (aged-related decline or risks of dementia).
It is important to note that many of the studies showing an effect of coffee consumption on brain functions or risks of dementia report a correlation or association (they are not randomized clinical trials). As you know, correlation doesn’t prove causation: coffee drinkers may seem to do well in a number in these long-term studies, but there may be other reasons why coffee drinkers do better.
Q: How does caffeine affect my brain?
A: Caffeine is a stimulant.
It belongs to a chemical group called xanthine. Adenosine is a naturally occurring xanthine in the brain that slows down the activity of brain cells (neurons). To a neuron, caffeine looks like adenosine. It is therefore used by some neurons in place of adenosine. The result is that these neurons speed up instead of slowing down.
This increased neuronal activity triggers the release of the adrenaline hormone, which will affect your body [Read more…] about Does Coffee Boost Brain/ Cognitive Functions Over Time?
(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 more…] about Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article)
Today we’ll discuss some of the cognitive implications of “always on” workplaces and lifestyles via a fascinating interview with Maggie Jackson, an award-winning author and journalist. Her latest book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, describes the implications of our busy work and life environments and offers important reflections to help us thrive in them.
This is a 2‑part interview conducted via e‑mail: we will publish the continuation on Thursday March 12th.
Alvaro Fernandez: New York Times columnist David Brooks said last year that we live in a Cognitive Age, and encouraged readers to be aware of this change and try and adapt to the new reality. Can you explain the cognitive demands of today’s workplaces that weren’t there 30–40 years ago?
Maggie Jackson: Our workplaces have changed enormously in recent decades, and it’s easy to point to the Blackberry or the laptop as the sources of our culture of speed and overload and distraction. But it’s important to note first that our 24/7, fragmented work culture has deeper roots. With the first high-tech inventions, such as the cinema, phonograph, telegraph, rail, and car, came radical changes in human experience of time and space. Distance was shattered long before email and red-eye flights. Telegraph operators not online daters experienced the first virtual love affairs, as evidenced by the 1890s novel Wired Love. Now, we wrestle with the effects of changes seeded long ago.
Today, the cognitive and physical demands on workers are steep. Consider 24/7 living. At great cost to our health, we operate in a sleepless, hurried world, ignoring cues of sun and season, the Industrial Age inventions of the weekend and vacation, and the rhythms of biology. We try to break the fetters of time and live like perpetual motion machines. That’s one reason why we feel overloaded and stressed conditions that are corrosive to problem-solving and clear thinking.
At the same time, our technologies allow us access to millions of information bites producing an abundance of data that is both wondrous and dangerous. Unless we have the will, discipline and frameworks for turning this information into wisdom, we remain stuck on the surface of [Read more…] about Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book
Here you have SharpBrains’ 30 most popular articles, ranked by the number of people who have read each article in 2008.
Please note that, since the first article already includes most of our most popular brain teasers, we have excluded teasers from the rest of the ranking. (If those 50 are not enough for you, you can also try these brain teasers).
|1. Top 50 Brain Teasers and Games to Test your Brain
It is always good to stimulate our minds and to learn a bit about how our brains work. Here you have a selection of the 50 Brain Teasers that people have enjoyed the most.
|2. The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains
Let’s review some good lifestyle options we can follow to maintain, and improve, our vibrant brains. My favorite: don’t outsource your brain (even to us).
|3. Why do You Turn Down the Radio When You’re Lost?
You’re driving through suburbia one evening looking for the street where you’re supposed to have dinner at a friend’s new house. You slow down to a crawl, turn down the radio, stop talking, and stare at every sign. Why is that? Neither the radio nor talking affects your vision. Or do they?
|4. Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain
You may have heard that the brain is plastic. As you know the brain is not made of plastic! Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to CHANGE throughout life.
|5. Top 10 Brain Training Future Trends
In an emerging market like brain fitness training, it is difficult to make precise projections. But, we can observe a number of trends that executives, consumers, public policy makers, and the media should watch closely in the coming years, as brain fitness and training becomes mainstream, new tools appear, and an ecosystem grows around it.
Here you have the twice-a-month newsletter with our most popular blog posts. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.
Have you ever wondered how we can maintain SharpBrains’ website, blog and newsletter without selling any products and with only limited advertising? The answer is, we offer market research to organizations such as healthcare providers, research centers, technology developers, venture capital firms, consulting and training companies, and more.
Our new Premium Research Sponsors program will allow pioneering organizations to collaborate with us to shape the future of the brain fitness and cognitive health field, by sponsoring and accessing the most up-to-date information on the science and best practices to assess and improve cognitive functioning across the lifespan. You can learn more about the Premium Research Sponsors program Here.
The Cognitive Health and Fitness Market On The Move: As you have probably seen, the Cognitive Health and Brain Fitness field is rapidly evolving. Here we highlight some of the main developments affecting the field over the last 6‑months: public policy initiatives in Canada and the US, the growing role of computerized assessments, several venture capital rounds, major initiatives by insurance companies, and significant research findings.
The Big Picture
Executive Summary of the Brain Fitness Market: Let’s step back and ask ourselves, “Why is the field evolving in such a fast way? What is hope, what is hype, what is reality?” A spate of recent global news coverage on brain fitness and brain training reflects a growing interest in natural, non drug-based interventions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This interest is very timely, given an aging population, the increased prevalence of Alzheimer’s rates, and soaring health care costs in the US that place more emphasis than ever on prevention and lifestyle changes. This article summarizes the main market dynamics, open questions, and top trends to watch for.
Nourishing Our Brains and Minds
Philosophy as the Missing Link in School Curricula: Kimberly Wickham answers provides some good answers to the question, “Why would anyone want to teach philosophy to pre-adolescent children? that will engage your critical thinking skills.
A User’s Guide to Lifelong Brain Health: Drs Simon Evans and Paul Burghardt hope (as we do) that the emerging emphasis on cognitive exercise and fitness helps complement ‑not substitute- other lifestyle factors important for the “physical health of the brain and all the systems it communicates with”. Think: nutrition, exercise, sleep.
Excellent Reader Comments: Our last newsletter generated a round of excellent comments by readers on cognitive training, Posit Science and Alzheimer’s Australia, gerontology and the brain, and the value of videogames. Come enjoy this collective wisdom and participate as you wish.
river with haikus
flowing in since the summer
keeping us afloat
The Challenges of Gerontology?: The World Economic Forum has asked me, as one of the 16 members of the Global Agenda Council on the Challenges of Gerontology, for “an 800 word summary of your most compelling actionable idea on the challenges of gerontology.” Feel free to help me out by offering your own actionable ideas, either related to the discipline of gerontology itself or on ways to best engage the growing number of brains over the age of 60 in our planet.