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 more…] about AARP’s Best Books Series: Brain Fitness
Dr. Michael Merzenich, Emeritus Professor at UCSF, is a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research. In the late 1980s, Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant. In 1996, he was the founding CEO of Scientific Learning Corporation (Nasdaq: SCIL), and in 2004 became co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and to the Institute of Medicine this year. He retired as Francis A. Sooy Professor and Co-Director of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco in 2007. You may have learned about his work in one of PBS TV specials, multiple media appearances, or neuroplasticity-related books.
(Alvaro Fernandez) Dear Michael, thank you very much for agreeing to participate in the inaugural SharpBrains Virtual Summit in January, and for your time today. In order to contextualize the Summit’s main themes, I would like to focus this interview on the likely big-picture implications during the next 5 years of your work and that of other neuroplasticity research and industry pioneers.
Thank you for inviting me. I believe the SharpBrains Summit will be very useful and stimulating, you are gathering an impressive group together. I am looking forward to January.
Neuroplasticity-based Tools: The New Health & Wellness Frontier
There are many different technology-free approaches to harnessing/ enabling/ driving neuroplasticity. What is the value that technology brings to the cognitive health table?
It’s all about efficiency, scalability, personalization, and assured effectiveness. Technology supports the implementation of near-optimally-efficient brain-training strategies. Through the Internet, it enables the low-cost distribution of these new tools, anywhere out in the world. Technology also enables the personalization of brain health training, by providing simple ways to measure and address individual needs in each person’s brain-health training experience. It enables assessments of your abilities that can affirm that your own brain health issues have been effectively addressed.
Of course substantial gains could also be achieved by organizing your everyday activities that grow your neurological abilities and sustain your brain health. Still, if the ordinary citizen is to have any real chance of maintaining their brain fitness, they’re going to have to spend considerable time at the brain gym!
One especially important contribution of technology is the scalability that it provides for delivering brain fitness help out into the world. Think about how efficient the drug delivery system is today. Doctors prescribe drugs, insurance covers them, and there is a drug store in every neighborhood in almost every city in the world so that every patient has access to them. Once neuroplasticity-based tools and outcomes and standardized, we can envision a similar scenario. And we don’t need all those drug stores, because we have the Internet!
Having said this, there are obvious obstacles. One main one, in my mind, is the lack of understanding of what these new tools can do. Cognitive training programs, for example, seem counter-intuitive to consumers and many professionals “ why would one try to improve speed-of-processing if all one cares about is memory? A second obvious problem is to get individuals to buy into the effort required to really change their brains for the better. That buy-in has been achieved for many individuals as it applies to their physical health, but we haven’t gotten that far yet in educating the average older person that brain fitness training is an equally effortful business!
Tools for Safer Driving: Teens and Adults
Safe driving seems to be one area where the benefits are more intuitive, which may explain the significant traction.
Yes, we see great potential and interest among insurers for improving driving safety, both for seniors and teens. Appropriate cognitive training can lower at-fault accident rates. You can measure clear benefits in relatively short time frames, so it won’t take long for insurers to see an economic rationale to not only offer programs at low cost or for free but to incentivize drivers to complete them. Allstate, AAA, State Farm and other insurers are beginning to realize this potential. It is important to note that typical accidents among teens and seniors are different, so that training methodologies will need to be different for different high-risk populations.
Yet, most driving safety initiatives today still focus on educating drivers, rather that training them neurologically. We measure vision, for example, but completely ignore attentional control abilities, or a driver’s useful field of view. I expect this to change significantly over the next few years.
Long-term care and health insurance companies will ultimately see similar benefits, and we believe that they will follow a similar course of action to reduce general medical and neurodegenerative disease- (Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s- and Parkinsons-) related costs. In fact, many senior living communities are among the pioneers in this field.
Boomers & Beyond: Maintaining Cognitive Vitality
Mainstream media is covering this emerging category with thousands of stories. But most coverage seems still focused on does it work? more than “how do we define It”, what does work mean? or work for whom, and for what? Can you summarize what recent research suggests?
We have seen clear patterns in the application of our training programs, some published (like IMPACT), some unpublished, some with healthy adults, and some with people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimers Disease (AD). What we see in every case: [Read more…] about Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers
Here you have the July edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain 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 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 Amazon.com, we would surely appreciate! The Amazon.com book page is Here.
Best regards, and enjoy the month
If you subscribe to our monthly newsletter, you may remember we ran a survey in January. Well, the response rate and the quality of the responses were nothing short of spectacular, in many dimensions. The responses from over 2,000 participants (out of 21,000 subscribers) reinforce the need for public awareness initiatives and quality information to help evaluate and navigate product claims.
I have been presenting the results from one of the questions (see below), yesterday at the ASA/ NCOA (American Society on Aging) event, today at IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association), as part of more comprehensive presentations of what is going on in the brain fitness and cognitive health field.
An obvious implication for the survey result reinforces the need for brain-related public awareness campaigns such as the ongoing Brain Awareness Week. Every year, landmark research findings open new opportunities to help maintain lifelong cognitive health and brain fitness. The opportunity is immense — but we will need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, helping consumers and professionals separate hope from hype and make informed decisions.
Robin Klaus, Chairman of Club One Fitness Centers (the company is a client, he is an advisor), just gave us a nice quote saying that “as our population ages the fields of physical fitness and brain fitness will naturally merge and, as this happens, a whole new field of valued added services will emerge for our members. High quality informational resources such as SharpBrains’ are crucial to the success of this merger.”
The Survey: Results to Key Question
Asked, “What is the most important problem you see in the brain fitness field and how do you think it can be solved?” respondents identified the following six problems in rank order:
#1: Public Awareness (39%)
— “Getting people to understand that heredity alone does not decide brain functioning.”
— “An expectant public will first want to believe that a “miracle” drug is to be soon available (to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease).”
#2: Navigating Claims (21%)
- “How to separate marketing hype from stuff that really works?”
— “The lack of standards and clear definitions is very confusing, and makes a lot of people sceptical.”
#3: Research (15%)
— “Determining what activities are most beneficial to [Read more…] about Brain Fitness Survey: We Need More Brain Awareness Weeks!
Here you have several recent articles and developments worthy of attention:
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)
8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intelligent Life)
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 more…] about Cognitive News November-December 2008
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to give a talk to one hundred or so staff members at New York Public Library. As you would expect, it was a very stimulating group, and one of the participants, Brigid Cahalan, just wrote a fun blog post on her impressions from the event:
- “After attending a recent staff training session offered by the library’s Office of Staff Development, I decided to return to a habit of my childhood–eating sardines.”
— key pillars for brain health …are… “1) A balanced diet; 2) Cardiovascular physical exercise; 3) Stress management; and 4) Brain exercise: Novelty, Variety, Challenge (as long as it doesn’t stress us out).”
Read full article: here.
Comment: A very interesting trend of observe — the growing role of public libraries in providing quality brain health information and even, why not, becoming community-based brain fitness destinations. After all, is it not mental stimulation of all sorts, incorporating Novelty, Variety, and Challenge, what they truly offer?