Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Neuroplasticity and “real” Brain Games: The opportunity at hand

-- An MRI image of the brain showing the structure of white matter. Credit 3D Slicer/Wikimedia Commons.

— An MRI image of the brain showing the structure of white matter. Credit 3D Slicer/Wikimedia Commons.

In preparation for the new season of National Geographic’s Brain Games, their producers asked me to participate in a virtual roundtable around this thought-provoking question:

Do you think individuals can train their brain to respond in a particular way to certain situations, or do you think our brain’s innate “startle response” is too hardwired to alter?

My short answer: Yes, we can train our brains.

My long answer: Not only we can, but we SHOULD train our brains to respond in particular ways to certain situations. That’s why we have a human brain to begin with…Keep reading article The Real Brain Game: Harnessing Neuroplasticity to Upgrade Our Mental Equipment (The Creativity Post)

What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite

(Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from David DiSalvo’s new book What makes  your brain happy and why you should do the opposite.)

Taking a position in any argument—large or small—is slippery business for our brains. We can have every intention of honestly pursuing an answer, yet still fool ourselves into thinking our method is objective when it is, in fact, anything but. Cognitive science has helped decipher this enigma with research on the theoretical mental structures our brains use to organize information, called schemata. Read the rest of this entry »

New resource: Brain Fitness for All

In light of the current BBC-led controversy on whether “brain training” works, we believe it is critical to spend some time discussing the basics of brain functioning and brain-healthy lifestyles, what “brain training” is and isn’t (to be accurate, the BBC didn’t test Brain Training as a category, only the new games that their researchers chose to build from scratch and designate as “brain training” ignoring previous research), what methodologies for brain training are in fact backed up by science (meditation, cognitive therapy, biofeedback, computerized cognitive training) as valuable for a variety of populations and goals, and how consumers and professionals can learn to navigate the growing array of claims. SharpBrains wants to contribute to a healthy conversation by sharing online a new online resource based on the content from the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.

The new resource is available via the Navigation Bar as “HOW-TO GUIDE: all about brain fitness“, and below are its main sections. You can engage in the conversation in this blog, via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Enjoy!

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Debunking 10 Brain Myths

You are a lifelong learner. You may also be a caregiver, or a professional in fields such as healthcare, education, or psychology. The goal of this resource is to help you make informed decisions about brain health and cognitive fitness, based on latest scientific findings. First of all, let’s debunk some common myths. Keep reading.

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1. Brain Fitness Fundamentals

In order to make informed decisions about brain health and brain training, you need to first understand the underlying organization of the human brain and how it evolves across our lifespan. For example, the brain is composed of a number of specialized regions serving distinct functions, our life and productivity depend on a variety of brain functions, not just one, and there is nothing inherently fixed in the trajectory of how brain functions evolve as we age. Keep reading.

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2. The 4 Pillars of Brain Maintenance

Thanks to lifelong neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, our lifestyles and actions play a meaningful role in how our brains physically change. Now, there is no “general solution” or “magic pill” for brain maintenance. A multi-pronged approach centered on nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise is recommended for better brain health. Keep reading.

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3. Brain Training vs. Mental Activity

In this section we focus on mental exercise – which we will call brain training, to distinguish it from mental activity in general. Brain training goes beyond mental activity. It is the structured use of cognitive exercises or techniques aimed at improving specific brain functions, and can be delivered in a number of ways: meditation, cognitive therapy, cognitive training, biofeedback. Keep reading.

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4. Making Informed Brain Training Decisions

The state of the research does not allow for strong “prescriptions” of specific products: we want to offer you the best information available today so that you can make better informed decisions. Different people face different cognitive demands, and have different starting points, so there is no general solution for everyone and everything. As in physical fitness, informed consumers and professionals must ask themselves a number of questions. Keep reading.

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5. Brain Fitness through the Lifespan

The same way there are many reasons to exercise our bodies (run in a marathon, stay in shape, lose weight, become an Olympian, have strong abdominal muscles, etc.), there are many reasons to exercise our brains. In this chapter, we review a few current and future applications of brain training through the lifespan, including education, corporate wellness, retirement communities, clinical conditions, and more. Keep reading.

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6. Ready for the Future?

In this section our aim is to describe the trends we think are important in order to help you be ready for the future. Informed and proactive adults will look for solutions to integrate brain fitness to their everyday activities. Professionals will identify opportunities to offer new services and programs. We hope this chapter will give you ideas as to how to introduce brain fitness in your personal life and/or your workplace. Keep reading.

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7. Opening the Debate

Our ultimate goal is to stimulate discussion. In this final section we want to provide you, proud brain owners and ambassadors of brain fitness, with additional food for though. Processing new information is a stimulating intellectual exercise, and discussing insights and open questions with a group of people can be equally if not more stimulating. Keep reading.

Manage Stress for Your Brain Health

We just received this very insightful essay on stress management and brain health written by Landon, a homeschooler and participant in Susan Hill’s writing workshop. Susan asked Meditation School Studentsher students to write about implications of recent brain research.

Enjoy the article and the long weekend (at least here in the US) and Relax…

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Stress Management for Your Brain Health

— By Landon N

Thousands and thousands of web-like neurons linked together form a spongy mass inside a skull. This mass, called the brain, is what controls the body and the thoughts that run threw it have a notable effect on the heath of an individual. In addition to thoughts, fear, stress, and emotions also have a strong effect on health. So then, health depends on more than just eating right and exercising; it depends on our mental state as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity

Charles Darwin 1880Charles Darwin (1809-1882)’s autobiography (full text free online) includes some very insightful refections on the evolution of his own mind during his middle-age, showcasing the power of the brain to rewire itself through experience (neuroplasticity) during our whole lifetimes-not just when we are youngest.

He wrote these paragraphs at the age of 72 (I have bolded some key sentences for emphasis, the whole text makes great reading):

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years a wonderful relief and pleasure to me, and I often bless all novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily– against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better.

This curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with Read the rest of this entry »

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