Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Cognitive Development in the first 20 years: A Child’s and Teenager’s Brain

(Editor’s Note: What fol­lows is an excerpt from Dr. Robert Sylwester’s new book, A Child’s Brain. The Need for Nur­ture (2010) Cor­win. In this excerpt, Robert Syl­west­er syn­the­sizes the first 20 years of devel­op­ment and shows how it can be viewed as a “rhyth­mic four-six-four-six-year devel­op­men­tal sequence”)

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Chap­ter 4: Devel­op­ment and Growth.

The First 20 years.

To sim­pli­fy a com­plex phe­nom­e­non, we can divide our 20-year devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ry into two peri­ods of approx­i­mate­ly 10 years each. The devel­op­men­tal peri­od from birth to about age 10 focus­es on learn­ing how to be a human being – learn­ing to move, to com­mu­ni­cate, and to mas­ter basic social skills. The devel­op­men­tal peri­od from about 11 to 20 focus­es on learn­ing how to be a pro­duc­tive repro­duc­tive human being – plan­ning for a voca­tion, explor­ing emo­tion­al com­mit­ment and sex­u­al­i­ty, and achiev­ing auton­o­my.

The first four years of each of these two decade-long devel­op­ment peri­ods are char­ac­ter­ized by slow awk­ward begin­nings to a six-year nor­mal move toward con­fi­dence and com­pe­tence. For exam­ple, crawl­ing leads to tod­dling leads to walk­ing leads to run­ning and leap­ing.

We’ve designed our preschool, ele­men­tary school, mid­dles school, high school and ini­tial col­lege sys­tems around this rhyth­mic four-six-four-six-year devel­op­men­tal sequence. We tend to keep small chil­dren at home dur­ing their first four years to allow them to begin their devel­op­ment in a shel­tered fam­i­ly envi­ron­ment with­out state stan­dards and assess­ment pro­grams. They learn basic motor skills, how to talk, and how to get along with their fam­i­lies. In essence, they devel­op a basic under­stand­ing of how their shel­tered world works.

At about five years, we say, in effect, Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Does Cognitive Training Work?

Here you have the Feb­ru­ary edi­tion of our month­ly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and brain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Brain FitnessNewslet­ter by email, sim­ply by sub­mit­ting your email at the top of this page.

Cog­ni­tive train­ing (or struc­tured men­tal exer­cise) def­i­nite­ly seems to work — as long as we define prop­er­ly what “work” means, don’t expect mag­ic cures, and help nav­i­gate options. Please keep read­ing…

Inter­view: Bay­crest

Inter­view with Baycrest’s CEO Dr. William Reich­man: Dis­cussing the recent Cen­tre for Brain Fit­ness at Bay­crest, Dr. Reich­man sug­gests that “we have an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make major progress in Brain Health in the XXI cen­tu­ry, sim­i­lar to what hap­pened with Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Health in the XXth, and tech­nol­o­gy will play a cru­cial role.” A major obsta­cle? We need a con­sen­sus on “wide­ly accept­ed stan­dards for out­come mea­sures”.

Does It Work?

Does cog­ni­tive train­ing work? (For Whom? For What?): The grow­ing field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (one of the tools for brain fit­ness) can appear very con­fus­ing as the media keeps report­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry claims. These claims are often based on press releas­es, with­out a deep­er under­stand­ing of the sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence. Dr. Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, Sharp­Brains’ Research Man­ag­er for Edu­ca­tion­al Ini­tia­tives, ana­lyzes a cou­ple of recent stud­ies, clar­i­fy­ing what they mean — and what they don’t mean.

It Works, and It Doesn’t Work: the IMPACT study (a major, mul­ti-site study on the Posit Sci­ence audi­to­ry pro­gram) will be pub­lished at the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Geri­atrics Soci­ety in April. Results sup­port that cog­ni­tive train­ing works — but doesn’t sup­port the grandiose “brain age” claims we see too often.

Cog­ni­tive Train­ing can Influ­ence Brain Bio­chem­istry: Dr. David Rabin­er dis­cuss­es a recent sci­en­tif­ic study that “shows that brain bio­chem­istry can be mod­i­fied by expe­ri­ence”, and that com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing (Cogmed work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing) can pro­vide that expe­ri­ence.

The Big Pic­ture

Mak­ing Healthy Choic­es — Pri­mare Care and Pre­ven­tion: a pan­el at the recent World Eco­nom­ic Forum explored why “New mar­kets and indus­tries are aris­ing sil­ver indus­tries such as finan­cial ser­vices, health, hous­ing and hos­pi­tal­i­ty geared to senior cit­i­zens. Longevi­ty needs to be linked to health includ­ing cog­ni­tive health and lifestyle choic­es play a major role in health.”

Enrich your envi­ron­ment now and ben­e­fit your future off­spring: Dr. Robert Syl­west­er reports that “all sorts of long held-beliefs about our brain and cog­ni­tion are being re- exam­ined by cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists” because of fas­ci­nat­ing stud­ies such as the one he reviews (with mice): “The study’s find­ings seemed to sug­gest that acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics can be genet­i­cal­ly transmitted…long-term ben­e­fits accrue from a stim­u­lat­ing ear­ly envi­ron­ment that encour­ages curios­i­ty and explo­ration.”

Man­ag­ing Emo­tions

From Dis­tress to De-Stress: help­ing anx­ious, wor­ried kids: In a detailed 2-part arti­cle, (Part 1, Part 2), Dr. Jerome Schultz pro­vides great tips on how to help chil­dren learn to self-reg­u­late emo­tions, adding that “Teach­ers, occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists, phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion teach­ers and par­ents need to actu­al­ly teach chil­dren (of all ages) how to get them­selves into a phys­i­cal state of being relaxed. This doesn’t hap­pen auto­mat­i­cal­ly. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many adult yoga class­es!”

Lie to Me, Paul Ekman and Biofeed­back: You may have watched the new series Lie To Me, with Tim Roth, based on the work of Paul Ekman. The intro­duc­tion to the sec­ond episode shows why what are called “lie detec­tors” are noth­ing but biofeed­back sys­tems that mea­sure phys­i­o­log­i­cal anx­i­ety.

News

Brain Games for Baby Boomers: round-up of oth­er recent news, cov­er­ing the effects of gam­ing, cog­ni­tive train­ing for dri­ving skills, and brain fit­ness class­es.

Neu­rocog­ni­tive assess­ments and sports con­cus­sions: a new study and a new resource to under­stand and address the 1.6 to 3.8 mil­lion cas­es of sports-relat­ed con­cus­sions that occur annu­al­ly in the Unit­ed States.

Brain Teas­er

How will you, your orga­ni­za­tion, your neigh­bors, par­tic­i­pate in Brain Aware­ness Week, March 16th-22nd, orga­nized by the Dana Foun­da­tion with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of thou­sands of out­reach part­ners, includ­ing Sharp­Brains? You can find event ideas, excel­lent resources (yes, includ­ing puz­zles), and a cal­en­dar of events, Here.

Have a great month of March!

A Love affair Across Generations: A Lamarckian Reincarnation?

Eric Jensen alert­ed me to a research study pub­lished in the Feb­ru­ary 4th Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science — Trans­gen­er­a­tional Res­cue of a Genet­ic Defect in Long-Term Poten­ti­a­tion and Mem­o­ry For­ma­tion by Juve­nile Enrich­ment. We both had the same ini­tial WOW! feel­ing that we had expe­ri­enced when we first read about the dis­cov­ery of mir­ror neu­rons a decade+ ago.

The study’s find­ings seemed to sug­gest that acquired char­ac­ter­is­tics can be genet­i­cal­ly trans­mit­ted, a Lamar­ck­i­nan belief that had long been dis­card­ed by biol­o­gists. This seemed improb­a­ble, so we decid­ed to check out what the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty thought. It’s the kind of research that edu­ca­tors cer­tain­ly need to under­stand because the poten­tial edu­ca­tion­al impli­ca­tions are pro­found, no mat­ter how this par­tic­u­lar study sorts out.

I’ve thus append­ed the fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion below: (1) the abstract and ref­er­ence of the orig­i­nal sttudy, (2) a link to a non-tech­ni­cal report in the cur­rent issue of New Sci­en­tist, (3) a link to a non- tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion of the research in Med­ical News Today, and (4) a link to a recent extend­ed non-tech­ni­cal New Sci­en­tist arti­cle on the issue of non-genet­ic inher­i­tance. Eric will post his com­men­tary on the research in the March edi­tion of his Brighter Brain Bul­letin newslet­ter.

THE STUDY:

To put it sim­ply: The researchers stud­ied long-term poten­ti­a­tion (LTP), in which longer and more robust synap­tic acti­va­tion occurs. LTP is the basic mech­a­nism for learn­ing and mem­o­ry for­ma­tion.

Juve­nile mice placed into an enriched envi­ron­ment (EE) devel­oped enhanced LTP capa­bil­i­ties that they lat­er trans­mit­ted to their own off­spring dur­ing embryo­ge­n­e­sis (rather than through lat­er mater­nal instruc­tion), and these effects per­sist­ed even when the off­spring weren’t in an EE. The study con­clud­ed that a stim­u­lat­ing juve­nile envi­ron­ment can thus influ­ence the com­po­si­tion of sig­nal­ing net­works that influ­ence synap­tic plas­tic­i­ty and mem­o­ry for­ma­tion in the enriched mouse, and also in its future off­spring.

The prob­lem with this research appears to be over whether the trans­mit­ted effects occurred via genet­ic changes or through some­thing else in the mother’s uter­ine envi­ron­ment. A female’s eggs devel­op ear­ly in life to be dis­trib­uted lat­er, so it’s improb­a­ble that a female’s juve­nile expe­ri­ences would alter the DNA in her eggs. A more prob­a­ble expla­na­tion may be that any changes in the mother’s brain that occur via an EE are rep­re­sent­ed as cur­rent­ly ill- under­stood sig­nal­ing mol­e­cules that pass through the pla­cen­tal bar­ri­er into the embry­on­ic brain.

THE SIGNIFICANCE:

For edu­ca­tors, this research sim­ply adds to our own strong belief that long-term ben­e­fits accrue from a stim­u­lat­ing ear­ly envi­ron­ment that encour­ages curios­i­ty and explo­ration. The research builds on Read the rest of this entry »

Learning & the Brain: Resources for Educators

As promised in my pre­vi­ous post (10 Brain Train­ing Tips To Teach and Learn), here are some of the resources that inform my under­stand­ing of the brain: books, con­fer­ences, and web­sites.

BOOKS

There are a mul­ti­tude of books about the brain. For edu­ca­tors, the best of these are books that demys­ti­fy the lan­guage of neu­ro­science while pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion applic­a­ble to the teaching/learning process.

Among the more pro­lif­ic or well-known authors of this type include Jeb Schenck, Robert Syl­west­er, Bar­bara Givens, Robert Marzano, Mar­ilee Sprenger, and Eric Jensen.

I have found books Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Research Interview Series

We are work­ing on improv­ing sev­er­al sec­tions of our web­site, espe­cial­ly our Resources sec­tion. It will look much bet­ter in a few days. Our first step has been to re-orga­nize our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series, and below you have how it looks today.

Dur­ing the last 18 months I have had the for­tune to inter­view over 15 cut­ting-edge neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists on their research and thoughts. Here are some of our favorite quotes (you can read the full inter­view notes by click­ing on the links):

Read the rest of this entry »

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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