Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Expo Day; Top 15 Articles of 2009

In this Jan­u­ary issue of our eNewslet­ter, we will first neuronsbrief you on the enlight­en­ing demos that will take place on Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 20th, as part of the Sharp­Brains Sum­mit, and then present the 15 most stim­u­lat­ing Sharp­Brains arti­cles of 2009.

Expo Day

If you want to see and dis­cuss the lat­est pro­grams and tech­nolo­gies for brain fit­ness, pre­sent­ed by Sum­mit Spon­sors, Wednes­day Jan­u­ary 20th is your day. Each demo will last 30 min­utes, fol­lowed by 15 min­utes of Q&A.

9am. Baycrest/ Cog­nic­i­ti will intro­duce the new Memory@Work work­shop, designed to teach what mem­o­ry is, how lifestyle fac­tors such as dis­trac­tion and stress can affect mem­o­ry, and how to enhance mem­o­ry per­for­mance at work with the use of enabling strate­gies.

10am. Cog­niFit will demo Cog­niFit Per­son­al Coach and Cog­niFit Senior Dri­ver, two online pro­grams designed to assess and main cog­ni­tive func­tions for healthy liv­ing and safe dri­ving, respec­tive­ly.

11am. Posit Sci­ence will demo InSight, a soft­ware-based cog­ni­tive train­ing pack­age designed to sharp­en brain’s visu­al sys­tem. This is the pro­gram being test­ed by All­state for safer dri­ving.

Noon. Hap­py Neu­ron will intro­duce HAP­PYneu­ron PRO, a new plat­form for pro­fes­sion­als for the effec­tive deliv­ery and man­age­ment of cog­ni­tive reme­di­a­tion and reha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams in a patient cen­tric man­ner.

1pm. Sharp­Brains will help nav­i­gate this grow­ing field by dis­cussing The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware 2009 report and The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness con­sumer guide, and sum­ma­riz­ing key Sum­mit take-aways.

Learn more and reg­is­ter HERE. Please remem­ber that reg­is­tra­tion clos­es on Jan­u­ary 17th.

We want to thank our most recent spon­sor, the Arrow­smith Pro­gram, a com­pre­hen­sive suite of cog­ni­tive pro­grams for stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties avail­able in pub­lic and pri­vate schools in Cana­da and the U.S. More infor­ma­tion here.

And now, let’s review the (in our view) 15 most stim­u­lat­ing arti­cles of 2009.

The Big Pic­ture

100 is the new 65: Why do some peo­ple live, and well, to 100? Researchers are try­ing to find out, reports Meera Lee Sethi at Greater Good Mag­a­zine.

Learn­ing about Learn­ing: an Inter­view with Joshua Wait­zkin: Scott Bar­ry Kauf­man inter­views “child prodi­gy” Joshua Wait­zkin on The Art of Learn­ing.

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

Why is work­ing mem­o­ry rel­e­vant to read­ing and math­e­mat­ics: A recent large UK study iden­ti­fied 1 in 10 stu­dents as hav­ing work­ing mem­o­ry dif­fi­cul­ties. Dr. Tra­cy Alloway elab­o­rates why this mat­ters.

Change Your Envi­ron­ment, Change Your­self: Dr. Brett Steen­barg­er explains why new envi­ron­ments  force us to exit our rou­tines and active­ly mas­ter unfa­mil­iar chal­lenges.”

Tools

Retool­ing Use it or lose it: Alvaro Fer­nan­dez dis­cuss­es why rou­tine, doing things inside our com­fort zones, is the most com­mon ene­my of the nov­el­ty, vari­ety and chal­lenge our brains need.

Does cog­ni­tive train­ing work? (For Whom? For What?): Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, dis­sects a cou­ple of recent press releas­es and the under­ly­ing stud­ies to clar­i­fy­ing what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

New Study Sup­ports Neu­ro­feed­back Treat­ment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabin­er reports the promis­ing find­ings from the first well-designed con­trolled tri­al on the effect of neu­ro­feed­back treat­ment for ADHD.

Do Art Class­es Boost Test Scores? Is there a “Mozart Effect?”: Some researchers sug­gest so; oth­ers are not con­vinced. Karin Evans offers a  thought­ful review of the evi­dence and asks, “Now, is this the right ques­tion?”

Does cof­fee boost cog­ni­tive func­tions over time? Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon reports good news (long-term effects seem more pos­i­tive than neg­a­tive, so cof­fee leads to no clear harm) and bad ones (no clear ben­e­fi­cial effects on gen­er­al brain func­tions).

Indus­try

Brain fit­ness heads towards its tip­ping point: How do you know when some­thing is mov­ing towards a Glad­wellian tip­ping point? When insur­ance com­pa­nies and pol­i­cy mak­ers pay atten­tion, Dr. Ger­ard Finnemore reports.

Visu­al Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the State of the Mar­ket 2009: Paul Van Slem­brouck beau­ti­ful­ly presents the main find­ings of our 150-page mar­ket report, The State of the Brain Fit­ness Mar­ket 2009.

Michael Merzenich on brain fit­ness: neu­ro­sci­en­tist Michael Merzenich dis­cuss­es neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, tech­nol­o­gy, safe dri­ving, men­tal health, and the need for stan­dards, auto­mat­ed assess­ments and “per­son­al brain train­ers”.

Brain Teas­er

Stim­u­late your Con­cen­tra­tion Skills: when one real­ly wants to mem­o­rize a fact, it is cru­cial to pay atten­tion. Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon chal­lenges you to count a few sim­ple let­ters.

Res­o­lu­tion

Final­ly, an arti­cle that may inspire some New Year Res­o­lu­tions. In 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.

Wish­ing you a Hap­py and Pro­duc­tive 2010, and look­ing for­ward to meet­ing many of you (200 so far) at the inau­gur­al Sharp­Brains Sum­mit!

Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

Think about this: How can any­one take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new bar­rage of arti­cles and stud­ies which seem to con­tra­dict each oth­er?

Do sup­ple­ments improve mem­o­ry? Do you need both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise or is one of them enough? Which brain train­ing approach, if any, is worth one’s time and mon­ey?

We tried to address these ques­tions, and many oth­ers, in our recent book, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­nessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (182 pages, $24.95), that we pre­sent­ed at Games for Health Con­fer­ence last week. The book is the result of over two years of exten­sive research includ­ing more than a hun­dred inter­views with sci­en­tists, pro­fes­sion­als and con­sumers, and a deep review of the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, led by neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Elkhonon Gold­berg and myself with the help of cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist Pas­cale Mich­e­lon. As we wrote in the Intro­duc­tion, what we want­ed to do first of all was to debunks these 10 myths on brain health and brain train­ing:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Facts: Life­long neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty allows our lifestyles and actions to play a mean­ing­ful role in how our brains phys­i­cal­ly evolve, espe­cial­ly giv­en longer life expectan­cy.

Myth 2. Aging means auto­mat­ic decline.
Facts: There is noth­ing inher­ent­ly fixed in the pre­cise tra­jec­to­ry of how brain func­tions evolve as we age.

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for cog­ni­tive enhance­ment.
Facts: Non-inva­sive inter­ven­tions can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable effects, side effect-free.

Myth 4. We will soon have a Mag­ic Pill or Gen­er­al Solu­tion to solve all our cog­ni­tive chal­lenges.
Facts: A mul­ti-pronged approach is rec­om­mend­ed, cen­tered around nutri­tion, stress man­age­ment, and both phys­i­cal and men­tal exer­cise.

Myth 5. There is only one “Use It or Lose it”.
Facts: The brain is com­posed of a num­ber of spe­cial­ized units. Our life and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty depend on a vari­ety of brain func­tions, not just one.

Myth 6. All brain activ­i­ties or exer­cis­es are equal.
Facts: Var­ied and tar­get­ed exer­cis­es are the nec­es­sary ingre­di­ents in brain train­ing so that a wide range of brain func­tions can be stim­u­lat­ed.

Myth 7. There is only one way to train your brain.
Facts: Brain func­tions can be impact­ed in a num­ber of ways: through med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, cog­ni­tive train­ing.

Myth 8. We all have some­thing called “Brain Age”.
Facts: Brain age is a fic­tion. No two indi­vid­u­als have the same brain or expres­sion of brain func­tions.

Myth 9. That “brain age”‚ can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain train­ing can improve spe­cif­ic brain func­tions, but, with research avail­able today, can­not be said to roll back one “brain age”‚ by a num­ber of years.

Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain train­ing.
Facts: As in phys­i­cal fit­ness, users must ask them­selves: What func­tions do I need to improve on? In what time­frame? What is my bud­get?

Do you have oth­er myths in mind you would like  us to address?

We have start­ed to receive great feed­back from the health­care com­mu­ni­ty, such as this email from a neu­ro­sur­geon in Texas:

I real­ly like the book, it is com­pre­hen­sive with­out being too tech­ni­cal. I have rec­om­mend­ed it to sev­er­al patients. There are some oth­er books that I expect­ed would be greet­ed with enthu­si­asm, but were too com­plex for most of my patients. I think this book is right in the sweet spot”.

A short, sweet, enter­tain­ing read of a com­plex top­ic, with time­ly (writ­ten in 1/09) reviews of 21 top tech­nol­o­gy prod­ucts, as well as informed and expert pre­dic­tions of where this bur­geon­ing brain-fit­ness field is head­ed. More impor­tant­ly, after you read it, you’ll have a good, detailed sense of where you, per­son­al­ly, can act to improve your own couch-pota­to brain — and how to keep it fit and flex­i­ble your whole life. The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness reminds of us all why books (and not just googling a top­ic) can be well worth your time and mon­ey. Two Stetho­scopes Up — check it out. life.”

And this great book review by an Internist Physi­cian and Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion Fel­low, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Pota­to?:

Doc Gur­ley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via Amazon.com Here, review copies avail­able upon request).

Descrip­tion: While most of us have heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” very few under­stand what it means, or how to prop­er­ly ‚“use it”‚¬ in order to main­tain brain func­tion and fit­ness. The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness is an invalu­able guide that helps read­ers nav­i­gate grow­ing brain research and iden­ti­fy the lifestyle fac­tors and prod­ucts that con­tribute to brain health and fit­ness. By gath­er­ing insights from eigh­teen of the world’s top sci­en­tists and offer­ing tools and detailed descrip­tions of over twen­ty prod­ucts, this book is an essen­tial guide to the field of brain fit­ness, neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and cog­ni­tive health. An acces­si­ble and thought-pro­vok­ing read, The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness edu­cates life­long learn­ers and pro­fes­sion­als in health­care, edu­ca­tion, busi­ness, etc., on emerg­ing trends and fore­casts of what the future will hold.

Prod­ucts Reviewed (we reviewed sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies pub­lished before Jan­u­ary 2009, when the man­u­script text was closed):

- Over­all brain main­te­nance: Brain Age series (Nin­ten­do), Brain­Ware Safari (Learn­ing Enhance­ment Cor­po­ra­tion), FitBrains.com (Viv­i­ty Labs), Happy-Neuron.com (Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing), Lumosity.com (Lumos Labs), Mind­Fit (Cog­niFit), (m)Power (Dakim)

- Tar­get­ed brain work­out: Clas­sic and InSight (Posit Sci­ence), Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing JM and RM (Cogmed), Dri­ve­Fit (Cog­niFit), Earo­bics (Houghton Mif­flin), Fast For­Word (Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing), Intel­li­Gym (Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing), Vision Rest­pra­tion Ther­a­py (NovaV­i­sion)

- Emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion: emWave PC and Per­son­al Stress Reliev­er (Heart­Math), Jour­ney to the Wild Divine (Wild Divine), RES­PeR­ATE (Inter­Cure), StressEras­er (Helicor)

Michael Merzenich: Brain Plasticity offers Hope for Everyone

What­ev­er you strug­gle with in a sense as it stems from your neu­rol­o­gy, the inher­ent plas­tic­i­ty of the brain gives you a basis for improve­ment. This is a way under­uti­lized and under-appre­ci­at­ed resource that well all have.” Dr. Michael Merzenich on the Brain Sci­ence Pod­cast #54, 2/13/09.

Recent­ly there has been grow­ing con­tro­ver­sy about the effec­tive­ness of com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams. As a co-founder of Posit Sci­ence, Inc. Dr. Michael Merzenich is a staunch defend­er of the meth­ods his com­pa­ny uses to val­i­date the pro­grams that they have devel­oped. But for the pur­pos­es of this essay, I want to share some of the key ideas we dis­cussed dur­ing his recent inter­view on the Brain Sci­ence Pod­cast.

First of all, I asked him to dis­cuss some of the high­lights of his long career. Since he was one of the first neu­ro­sci­en­tists to embrace the con­cepts of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty I was curi­ous about how this came about. While he did have some expo­sure to the ani­mal evi­dence as a grad­u­ate stu­dent, it was actu­al­ly his expe­ri­ence with the inven­tion of the cochlear implant that con­vinced Dr. Merzenich of the real-world, prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions of brain plas­tic­i­ty. The qual­i­ty of the Read the rest of this entry »

Research on Older Driver’s Safety

Good arti­cle in the New York Times today:
An Epi­dem­ic of Crash­es Among the Aging? Unlike­ly, Study Says

- “The (Insur­ance Insti­tute for High­way Dri­ving) insur­ance insti­tute is con­duct­ing fur­ther research to deter­mine why the risks appear to be going down for old­er dri­vers. It may be that today’s old­er dri­vers are sim­ply in bet­ter phys­i­cal and men­tal shape than their coun­ter­parts a decade ago, so they are not only less like­ly to make a dri­ving mis­take, but also less frail and bet­ter able to sur­vive injuries.”

There is no doubt that, as a group, old­er per­sons of any giv­en age are in bet­ter phys­i­cal and men­tal shape today than their coun­ter­parts years ago. For con­text, world­wide life expectan­cy has increased more than 20 years in less than 6o years — so you can imag­ine how a per­son in his or her ear­ly 70s today is in bet­ter shape than some­one in his or her mid-60s a few decades back.

Still, as the num­ber of peo­ple over the age of 60 starts to grow expo­nen­tial­ly giv­en the influx of baby boomers, soci­ety at large will prob­a­bly ben­e­fit from start­ing to think through 1) what are the types of pro­grams, whether intro­duced and man­aged by the AARP, DMV or car insur­ance com­pa­nies, that can help old­er adults dri­ve safe­ly for as long as they want and need, 2) what are the mech­a­nisms to pre­vent hav­ing dri­vers in our roads who don’t pos­sess the min­i­mum per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties required to dri­ve “safe­ly” (and what “safe­ly” real­ly means).

And, yes, we should prob­a­bly have a sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tion regard­ing teenage dri­ving.
For relat­ed read­ing, you may enjoy these 2 arti­cles:

- All­state: Can we improve Dri­ver Safe­ty using Posit Sci­ence InSight?

- Improv­ing Dri­ving Skills and Brain Func­tion­ing- Inter­view with ACTIVE’s Jer­ri Edwards

Top 10 Cognitive Fitness Events of 2008 (Webinar)

We have just announced an upcom­ing webi­nar to pro­vide a mar­ket update:  Top 10 Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness Events of 2008 — A Mar­ket Update.

cognitive fitness When: Thurs­day Decem­ber 11th, from 12:00 to 1:00 pm Pacif­ic Time. The same webi­nar will be repeat­ed on Thurs­day Decem­ber 18th, from 9:00 to 10:00 pm Pacif­ic Time.

The Top 10 Cog­ni­tive Fit­ness Events that will be dis­cussed include:

1) Feb­ru­ary: Dakim secures a $10.6m invest­ment from Galen Part­ners. Jack LaLanne becomes spokesper­son.
2) April: The Gov­ern­ment of Ontario, Cana­da, invests $10m in Bay­crest to devel­op and com­mer­cial­ize cog­ni­tive fit­ness tech­nolo­gies.
3) April: Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan researchers reveal in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences how com­put­er­ized work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing can gen­er­al­ize and improve flu­id intel­li­gence in healthy adults.
4) May: Humana unveils Games for Health ini­tia­tives, not renew­ing its agree­ment with Posit Sci­ence.
5) June: The US Army launch­es a new pol­i­cy requir­ing cog­ni­tive screen­ings of all sol­diers before deploy­ment (in order to Read the rest of this entry »

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