Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Study: Sports-related concussions can impact academic performance, especially in high school



Concussions Are Having An Alarming Impact On The Academics Of Students (Reuters):

“Studies in the last five years have focused largely on the athletic side of the equation – “taking them off the field, not putting them back on the field with symptoms, but this is really looking at the student side of the equation,” said Read the rest of this entry »

Memory Problems? Perhaps you are Multi-tasking

Today’s kids are into multi-tasking. This is the generation hooked on iPods, IM’ing, video games – not to mention TV! Many people in my generation think it is wonderful that kids can do all these things simultaneously and are impressed with their competence.

Well, as a teacher of such kids when they reach college, I am not impressed. College students these days have short attention spans and have trouble concentrating. They got this way in secondary school. I see this in the middle-school outreach program I help run. At this age kids are really wrapped up in multi-tasking at the expense of focus.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study last year, school kids in all grades beyond the second grade committed, on average, more than six hours per day to TV or videos, music, video games, and computers. Almost one-third reported that “most of the time” they did their homework while chatting on the phone, surfing the Web, sending instant messages, watching TV, or listening to music.

Kids think that this entertainment while studying helps their learning. It probably does make learning less tedious, but it clearly makes learning less efficient and less effective. Multi-tasking violates everything we know about how memory works. Now we have objective scientific evidence that Read the rest of this entry »

Can food improve brain health?

In other words, may some foods be specifically good for brain function?

For a great in-depth review of the effects of food on the brain you can check out Fernando Gomez-Pinilla’s recent article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (reference below). Here is an overview of the state off the research.

Several components of diet seem to have a positive effect on brain function.

Omega-3 fatty acids

These acids are normal constituents of cell membranes and are essential for normal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish (salmon), kiwi, and walnuts. Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes in the brain. The human body produces DHA but not enough. So we are dependent on the DHA that we get from what we eat.

A randomized double-blind controlled trial (which means seriously conducted scientific study) is currently looking at the effect of taking omega-3 fatty acids on children’s performance at school in England. Preliminary results (Portwood, 2006) suggest that Read the rest of this entry »

Executive Functions, Education and Alzheimer’s Disease

I just read a very interesting article in Newsweek: Executive Functions: The School Skill That May Matter More Than IQ. A few quotes:

– “But recent advances in psychology and brain science are now suggesting that a child’s ability to inhibit distracting thoughts and stay focused may be a fundamental cognitive skill, one that plays a big part in academic success from The Executive Brain by Elkhonon Goldbergpreschool on. Indeed, this and closely related skills may be more important than traditional IQ in predicting a child’s school performance.”

– “EF (executive functions) comprises not only effortful control and cognitive focus but also working memory and mental flexibility the ability to adjust to change, to think outside the box.”

– “When the teacher holds up a circle they clap, with a triangle they hop, and so forth. The kids are taught to talk themselves through the mental exercise: “OK, now clap.” “Twirl now.” This has been shown to flex and enhance the brain’s ability to switch gears, to suppress one piece of information and sub in a new one. It takes discipline; it’s the elementary school equivalent of saying “I really need stop thinking about next week’s vacation and focus on this report.”

The main points: executive functions are crucial for success in life, AND they can be trained. I couldn’t agree more with the article in that cognitive training should be part of the education curriculum and receive more research dollars to determine exactly how to best do so.

I read another very interesting article on Alzheimer’s Disease. Which may look like a completely different topic than the one above…but please bear with me. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gathered an impressive group of around 250 people to discuss the most pressing issues in Health and Medical Science (check out the Program and the Speakers bios), on October 3-6th. It was the first conference, by the way, where I have heard a speaker say: “I resuscitated a woman yesterday”.

Key highlights and trends:

1- Global health problems require the attention of the scientific community. Richard Klausner encouraged the scientific community to focus on Global Problems: maternal mortality rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutrition, cancer, clean water.  Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, added to that list the increasing epidemic risks of global zootic diseases (transmitted between humans and animals), supported by 2 interesting data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 people flying worldwide; in a year, airlines transport the equivalent of 2 billion passengers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ireland, a Catholic country. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ideology kills..we need more empathy with reality, and to work with local women in those countries who need things like female condoms.” She was implicitly criticizing the large budget devoted to unrealistic abstinence programs. This session included a fascinating exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audience to defend the role of US aid, explaining how 60% of retroviral drugs in African countries have been funded by the American taxpayer, highlighting President Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agenda item in many developing countries, and criticizing other countries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Agre, also in the audience, stand up and encourage the US to really step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a number of European countries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sputnik”?: Basic science is crucial for innovation and for economic growth, but it is often underappreciated. Scientists are not “nerds”, as sometimes they are portrayed in popular culture, but people with a deep curiosity and drive to solve a Big problem. Many of the speakers had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists, at a time when the profession was considered cool. Two Nobel Prize Laureates (Peter Agre, Michael Bishop), talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insist we must do a better job at explaining the Sputnikscientific process to society at large. Both are proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and having evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields.  Bishop listed a number of times where he made decisions that were considered “career suicide” by mentors and colleagues, and mentioned “I was confused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspiring.

4- We need a true Health Care Culture: Mark Ganz summarized it best by explaining how his health provider group improved care when they redefined themselves from “we are 7,000 employees” to “we are a 3 million strong community”, moving from Read the rest of this entry »

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