Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Needed: funding for innovative research on slowing cognitive decline via cognitive training

I was real­ly inter­est­ed in the recent cri­tique of the BBC brain train­ing exper­i­ment by Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki. I think Owens et al (2010) was a crit­i­cal piece of research which was not con­duct­ed in the right way and was focus­ing on the wrong sam­ple pop­u­la­tion.  I total­ly agree with the com­ments by Dr. Zelin­s­ki regard­ing the poten­tial for sam­ple bias and the use of some ques­tion­able cog­ni­tive mea­sures. How­ev­er, I would like to take this cri­tique fur­ther and ques­tion whether the study was val­ue for mon­ey when there are oth­er stud­ies which can­not achieve fund­ing but would, in my opin­ion, show the criticism/scepticism of the use-it-or-lose-it the­o­ry.

I think there is not enough crit­i­cism about the age of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion used in Owens et al. (2010). We have con­clu­sive cog­ni­tive and neu­ro­log­i­cal evi­dence that cognitive/neurological plas­tic­i­ty exists in young adults. There is also ade­quate evi­dence that neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is evi­dent in old­er adults. The crit­i­cal point which I want to make about the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion in Owens et al. study is that it did not tar­get the cor­rect sam­ple pop­u­la­tion, that is, old­er adults who are at risk of cognitive/neuronal atro­phy. It does not mat­ter if younger adults improve on brain train­ing tasks, or if skills picked up by younger adults from brain train­ing are not trans­ferred to oth­er cog­ni­tive domains, sim­ply because younger adults are good at these skills/cognitive func­tions. There­fore there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty that ceil­ing or scal­ing effects mask the true find­ings in Owens et al. (2010), as indi­cat­ed by Zelin­s­ki.

The recruit­ment of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion is also very con­cern­ing and I do not feel that their con­trol group was appro­pri­ate. Read the rest of this entry »

Nintendo Brain Age/ Training vs. Crossword Puzzles

Nin­ten­do brain-train­er ‘no bet­ter than pen­cil and paper’ (The Times):
“The sur­vey of ten-year-old chil­dren found no evi­dence to sup­port claims in Nintendo’s adver­tis­ing cam­paign, fea­tur­ing Nicole Kid­man, that users can test and reju­ve­nate their grey cells. The Nin­ten­do DS is a tech­no­log­i­cal jew­el. As a game it’s fine, said Alain Lieury, pro­fes­sor of cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rennes, Brit­tany, who con­duct­ed the sur­vey. But it is char­la­tanism to claim that it is a sci­en­tif­ic test.

Com­ments: as we have said before, Nin­ten­do Brain Age and Brain Train­ing should be seen as what they are: a game. And the con­struct of one’s hav­ing a  “brain age” makes no sense.

Hav­ing said that, the researcher quot­ed then offers, out of the blue, a high­ly inac­cu­rate state­ment:

The study test­ed Nintendo’s claims on 67 ten-year-olds. “That’s the age where you have the best chance of improve­ment,” Pro­fes­sor Lieury said. “If it doesn’t work on chil­dren, it won’t work on adults.”

That asser­tion (that some­thing won’t “work” on adults because it won’t “work” on kids) makes even less sense than hav­ing a “brain age”. The Cog­ni­tive Reserve research shows the need for life­long men­tal stim­u­la­tion — and the real­i­ty is that kids are more exposed to nov­el­ty and chal­lenge all the time, where­as old­er adults may not be. Fur­ther, that claim (some­thing that doesn’t “work” on kids won’t “work” on adults) has already been test­ed and proven wrong:

In a cou­ple of recent tri­als, dis­cussed here, the same strat­e­gy game (Rise of Nations, a com­plex chal­lenge for exec­u­tive func­tions), played for the same num­ber of hours (23)  showed quite impres­sive (untrained) cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits in peo­ple over 60 — and no ben­e­fits in peo­ple in their 20s.

How can this be? Well, we often say that our brains need nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge — and it should be obvi­ous that those ingre­di­ents depend on who we are Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing the Premium Research Sponsors program

Have you ever won­dered how we can main­tain Sharp­Brains web­site, blog and newslet­ter with­out sell­ing any prod­uct and with only lim­it­ed adver­tis­ing? Peo­ple often ask us that ques­tion, espe­cial­ly once we explain that we don’t sell prod­ucts (sell­ing prod­ucts would present a con­flict of inter­est giv­en our mis­sion to “pro­vide indi­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies and insti­tu­tions with high-qual­i­ty, research-based, infor­ma­tion and guid­ance to nav­i­gate the grow­ing cog­ni­tive and brain fit­ness mar­ket”.)

The answer is, we offer pro­pri­etary mar­ket research and advi­so­ry ser­vices to orga­ni­za­tions such as these. They want to ful­ly under­stand emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness and Cog­ni­tive Health trends, oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges, in order to make bet­ter-informed deci­sions. Exam­ples:

- lead­ing health­care providers eval­u­at­ing cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing options.
uni­ver­si­ties and research cen­ters try­ing to bridge brain research and prac­tice.
devel­op­ers of tech­nolo­gies that help assess and/ or train cog­ni­tive func­tions who want a bet­ter view of mar­ket size, trends and the com­pet­i­tive land­scape.
con­sult­ing and train­ing com­pa­nies inter­est­ed in under­stand­ing mar­ket trends to scope their own poten­tial offer­ings.
ven­ture cap­i­tal firms look­ing for invest­ment ideas and due dili­gence on existing/ poten­tial deals.

We chose to focus our efforts on pro­vid­ing qual­i­ty mar­ket research and advi­so­ry ser­vices giv­en the grow­ing con­fu­sion in the mar­ket­place and the need for an inde­pen­dent and qual­i­fied source of infor­ma­tion, mar­ket data and best prac­tices. The brain fit­ness soft­ware field (defined as soft­ware appli­ca­tions that help assess or train cog­ni­tive func­tions) is pro­ject­ed to exceed $2B by 2015, fueled by an increas­ing amount of applied research on neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and cog­ni­tion; a rapid­ly evolv­ing mar­ket­place of prod­ucts mak­ing cog­ni­tive claims; and grow­ing con­sumer and insti­tu­tion­al demand. Large and small orga­ni­za­tions are already tak­ing the first steps to lever­age those tech­nolo­gies.

We are now launch­ing a new Pre­mi­um Research Spon­sors pro­gram to part­ner with pio­neer­ing orga­ni­za­tions who want to col­lab­o­rate with us to shape the future of Read the rest of this entry »

The Cognitive Health and Fitness Market On The Move

As you have prob­a­bly seen, the Cog­ni­tive Health and Brain Fit­ness field is rapid­ly evolv­ing, so let me high­light some of the main recent devel­op­ments affect­ing the field:

1) Pub­lic pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives:
— The Gov­ern­ment of Ontario, Cana­da, announced a $10m invest­ment in Bay­crest Research Cen­ter to help devel­op and com­mer­cial­ize brain fit­ness tech­nolo­gies. This $10m invest­ment was matched with an addi­tion­al $10m by local investors.
— In the US, The Paul Well­stone and Pete Domeni­ci Men­tal Health Par­i­ty and Addic­tion Equi­ty Act of 2008 was signed into law, includ­ed in the recent­ly-approved eco­nom­ic bailout bill. The pas­sage of this law has sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tions for health­care providers and tech­nol­o­gy ven­dors alike.

2) Com­put­er­ized Cog­ni­tive Assess­ments Used by the US Mil­i­tary:
The US Army launched a new pol­i­cy requir­ing cog­ni­tive screen­ings of all sol­diers before deploy­ment (in order to bet­ter diag­nose poten­tial prob­lems such as PTSD and TBI upon return). ANAM was the select­ed com­put­er­ized bat­tery of tests.

3) Ven­ture & Angel Fundrais­ing for Cog­ni­tive Train­ing com­pa­nies:
A num­ber of devel­op­ers have raised mon­ey. Cog­niFit received $5m (from Milk Cap­i­tal), Lumos Labs $3m (First­Mark Cap­i­tal -pre­vi­ous­ly called Pequot Ven­tures-, Nor­west Ven­ture Part­ners), Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing $1.5m (issued shares), Viv­i­ty Labs $1m (undis­closed angel investors), This is, of course, on top of the Feb­ru­ary $10.6 invest­ment in Dakim (Galen Part­ners) that we already includ­ed in our mar­ket report.

4) Major Ini­tia­tives by Insur­ance Com­pa­nies:
— All­state launched a large-scale research project to mea­sure impact of Posit Sci­ence InSight (visu­al pro­cess­ing train­ing) on dri­ver safe­ty for adults over 50.
— OptumHealth announced a 3-year, $18m agree­ment with Brain Resource to offer web-based cog­ni­tive assess­ments as part of clin­i­cians’ deci­sion sup­port sys­tems.
— Humana decid­ed not to renew its agree­ment with Posit Sci­ence to offer Posit’s audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing train­ing pro­gram to Medicare mem­bers.

5) New Research:
— In a sig­nif­i­cant new study, a team from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan pub­lished a high-qual­i­ty paper in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences show­ing how com­put­er­ized work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing can gen­er­al­ize and improve flu­id intel­li­gence (one of the domains that tends to decline with age).
— Learn­ing and Teach­ing Scot­land released an inter­nal study show­ing how Nin­ten­do Brain Train­ing can help children’s math and con­cen­tra­tion skills. The study gained sig­nif­i­cant media atten­tion, despite the fact it hasn’t been pub­lished in a respect­ed jour­nal.

Note: This is an excerpt from the 6-Month Mar­ket Update we will  release lat­er this month, cov­er­ing the many impor­tant devel­op­ments that have occurred since we launched the inau­gur­al Brain Fit­ness Mar­ket Report in March this year. This spe­cial report will be avail­able exclu­sive­ly for our Pre­mi­um Research Spon­sors.

Newsletter: Navigating Games for Health and Education

Here you have the twice-a-month newslet­ter with our most pop­u­lar blog posts. Please brain fitness and health newsletterremem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, sim­ply by sub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

Quick, Are videogames good or bad?

That’s an impos­si­ble ques­tion. Good or bad for what? What  spe­cif­ic games are we talk­ing about? More impor­tant­ly, what are they sub­sti­tut­ing for, giv­en time is a lim­it­ed resource?  Con­trib­u­tor Jere­my Adam Smith, man­ag­ing direc­tor of Greater Good mag­a­zine, offers an in-depth review on the trade-offs videogames present in: Play­ing the Blame Game.

News Round-Up

Math Inno­va­tion in UK Schools: a recent (and unpub­lished) study seems to sup­port the poten­tial role for “Seri­ous Games” in edu­ca­tion. Learn­ing and Teach­ing Scot­land reports sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in pupils’ con­cen­tra­tion and behav­ior, on top of math skills, after using Nin­ten­do Brain Train­ing game.

Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia endors­es Posit Sci­ence pro­grams: this announce­ment brings to sur­face a gen­uine pub­lic health dilem­ma — do you, as an asso­ci­a­tion, pro­mote pro­grams before they have been shown to have long-term effects on Alzheimer’s pro­gres­sion and preva­lence, or do you wait until you have “per­fect” research, and then per­haps lose 10–20-30 years or use­ful con­tri­bu­tion to thousands/ mil­lions of brain’s Cog­ni­tive Reserves? In our judg­ment, it may well be worth offer­ing options today, as long as they are accom­pa­nied by inde­pen­dent mea­sure­ment of the cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits.

More Sep­tem­ber News: Sep­tem­ber has brought a wealth of addi­tion­al world­wide media cov­er­age on cog­ni­tive health and brain fit­ness top­ics, includ­ing the role of schools in nur­tur­ing student’s exec­u­tive func­tions, the impor­tance of base­line neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing in sports, the need for geron­tol­ogy as a dis­ci­pline to incor­po­rate brain research, how walk­ing can enhance brain func­tion, and the val­ue of brain fit­ness pro­grams for long-term care oper­a­tors.

Resources for Brain Fit­ness Nav­i­ga­tion

Well­ness Coach­ing for Brain Health and Fit­ness: will Well­ness Coach­es expand their role and become “Brain coach­es”? We have part­nered with Sut­ter Health Part­ners, the pio­neer­ing coach­ing group of a major health sys­tem, to train their well­ness coach­es on the impli­ca­tions of emerg­ing brain research for their work: focus on the 4 pil­lars of brain health -bal­anced nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise, stress man­age­ment and men­tal exer­cise.

Eval­u­a­tion Check­list for Orga­ni­za­tions: many health­care and edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tions are already mak­ing pur­chase deci­sions which involve eval­u­at­ing dif­fer­ent pro­grams that make “brain train­ing” or “cog­ni­tive health” claims. Here we present our 10-Ques­tion Sharp­Brains Check­list to help orga­ni­za­tions make informed deci­sions.

Eval­u­a­tion Check­list for Con­sumers: if you are an indi­vid­ual inter­est­ed in pro­grams for your­self and/ or a loved one, you can use this check­list. The start­ing point is to rec­og­nize that no pro­gram is a “mag­ic pill” or “gen­er­al solu­tion”, but a tool to be used in the appro­pri­ate con­text.

Learn­ing to Lead, and To Think

Round­table on Human Resources and Lead­er­ship: sev­er­al blog­gers dis­cuss lat­est news around lead­er­ship, social intel­li­gence, appli­ca­tions of brain research, and more.

Help­ing Young and Old Fish Learn How To Think: David Fos­ter Wal­lace gave a mas­ter­ful com­mence­ment speech on Life and Work to the 2005 grad­u­at­ing  class at Keny­on Col­lege.  Worth read­ing, with full atten­tion.

Brain Teasers

Sev­en Brain teasers for Job Inter­views: A recent CNN arti­cle explains why a grow­ing num­ber of tech­nol­o­gy and con­sult­ing com­pa­nies use brain teasers and log­ic puz­zles of a type called “guessti­ma­tions” dur­ing job inter­views. What are they look­ing for? Good exec­u­tive func­tions. Here you have a few typ­i­cal ques­tions.

Enjoy!

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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