Below you can find the full transcript of our engaging Q&A session yesterday on lifelong cognitive fitness, “mental capitalism”, and more, with Alvaro Fernandez, co-author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, moderated by Harry Moody, Director of Academic Affairs at AARP.
In spite of the recent economic downturn, revenues for digital technologies to assess, enhance and treat cognition, or digital brain health and fitness tools, grew 35% in 2009. “The convergence of demographic and policy trends with cognitive neuroscience discoveries and technological innovation is giving birth to a nascent marketplace that can fundamentally transform what brain health is, how it is measured, and how it is done,” says Alvaro Fernandez, member of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Aging Society and Editor-in-Chief of the report. “This groundbreaking report can help pioneers shape the emerging toolkit to benefit an aging society that increasingly seeks new ways to enhance cognitive functionality and mental wellness across the lifespan.”
“As the brain is thrust into the center of the healthcare ecosystem, innovative cognitive health and brain fitness applications will play an increasingly important role in defining neurocentric health,” adds Jake Dunagan, Research Director at the Institute For The Future.
A majority among the 1,900+ decision-makers and early-adopters surveyed said they trusted the effectiveness of non-invasive options above invasive options to enhance critical brain functionality. Professional and intellectual challenges were rated very effective by 61% of respondents, aerobic exercise and reading books by 42%, meditation by 38%, computerized brain training by 26%, taking prescription drugs by 13%, taking supplements by 12%, and self-medicating with drugs by 1%.
These are among the key findings of a 207-page market report released today by SharpBrains and prepared in collaboration with 24 leading scientists and 10 innovative organizations — the most comprehensive such research study done to analyze emerging research, technologies and marketplace.
“We must do for brain health in the 21st century what we largely accomplished in cardiovascular health in the past century. It’s time to take scientific insights out of the lab and to identify practical applications, making the maintenance of good brain fitness a public health priority,” indicates William Reichman, MD, President and CEO of Baycrest.
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 August 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.
Scientific publication Frontiers in Neuroscience recently published a special issue on Augmenting Cognition, and invited me to contribute with an article titled Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age. Groundbreaking brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The opportunity to improve brain health and performance is immense, but we need to ensure the marketplace matures in a rational and sustainable manner, both through healthcare and non-healthcare channels. Click Here to read my article.
In May 2009 SharpBrains published The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009, the main industry report for leading organizations preparing their members, their clients, and their patients for the cognitive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a market survey with 2,000+ respondents, detailed analysis of 20+ vendors, research briefs written by 12 leading scientists and data and trends for 4 major customer segments.
Below we share the full Executive Summary of the report and announce an exclusive webinar on September 29th to discuss the State of the Market in more depth with buyers of the report.
To order the report and access both the report and the webinar, you can click Here. (Only $975 ‑a 25% discount- using Discount Code Frontiers2009 before September 28th).
State of the Market
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 Fitness (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)
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)
After many many months of mental stimulation, physical exercise and the certain need for stress management… we have just announced the release of the The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009 report, our second annual comprehensive market analysis of the US market for computerized cognitive assessment and training tools. In this report we estimate the size of the US brain fitness software market at $265M in 2008, up from $225M in 2007 (18% annual growth), and from $100m in 2005. Two segments fuelled the market growth from 2007 to 2008: consumers (grew from $80m to $95m) and healthcare & insurance providers (grew from $65m to $80m).
The 150-page report finds promising research and initiatives to drive significant growth, combined with increased consumer confusion given aggressive marketing claims and lack of education and standards. The report includes:
— The complete results of an exclusive January 2009 Survey with 2,000+ respondents
— A proprietary Market & Research Momentum Matrix to categorize 21 key vendors into four categories
— 10 Research Executive Briefs written by leading scientists at prominent research labs
— An analysis of the level of clinical validation per product and cognitive domain
Top 10 Highlights from the report:
1) Consumers, seniors, communities and insurance providers drove year on year sustained growth, from $225m in 2007 to $265m in 2008. Revenues may reach between $1 billion to $5 billion by 2015, depending on how important problems (Public Awareness, Navigating Claims, Research, Health Culture, Lack of Assessment) are addressed.
2) Increased interest and confusion: 61% of respondents Strongly Agree with the statement Addressing cognitive and brain health should be a healthcare priority. But, 65% Agree/Strongly Agree. I don’t really know what to expect from products making brain claims.
3) Investment in R&D seeds future growth: Landmark investments by insurance providers and government-funded research institutes testing new brain fitness applications planted new seeds for future growth.
4) Becoming standard in residential facilities: Over 700 residential facilities mostly Independent and Assisted Living facilities and CCRCs have installed computerized cognitive training programs.
5) Customer satisfaction: Consumers seem more satisfied with computer-based products than paper-based options. But, satisfaction differs by product. When asked I got real value for my money, results were as follows: Lumosity.com (65% Agree), Puzzle Books (60%), Posit Science (52%), Nintendo (51%) agreed. Posit Science (53% Agree) and Lumosity.com (51%) do better than Puzzle Books (39%) and Nintendo (38%) at I have seen the results I wanted.
6) Assessments: Increasing adoption of computer-based cognitive assessments to baseline and track cognitive functions over time in military, sports, and clinical contexts. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America now advocates for widespread cognitive screenings after 65–75.
7) Specific computerized cognitive training and videogames have been shown to improve brain functions, but the key questions are, Which ones, and Who needs what when?
8) Aggressive marketing claims are creating confusion and skepticism, resulting in a distracting controversy between two misleading extremes: (a) buying product XYZ can rejuvenate your brain Y years or (b) those products don’t work; just do one more crossword puzzle. The upcoming book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness aims to help consumers navigate these claims.
9) Developers can be classified into four groups, based on a proprietary Market and Research Momentum Matrix: SharpBrains finds 4 Leaders, 8 High Potentials, 3 Crosswords 2.0, and 6 Wait & See companies.
10) Increased differentiation: Leading companies are better defining their value proposition and distribution channels to reach specific segments such as retirement communities, schools, or healthcare providers.
Leading researchers prepared 10 Research Executive Briefs:
- Dr. Joshua Steinerman (Einstein-Monteore): Neuroprotection via cognitive activities
— Dr. Jerri Edwards (South Florida): Assessments of driving fitness
— Dr. Susanne Jaeggi and Dr. Martin Buschkuehl (Bern, Michigan): Working memory training and intelligence
— Dr. Torkel Klingberg (Karolinska): Working memory training, dopamine, and math
— Dr. Liz Zelinski (UC Davis): Auditory processing training
— Dr. David Vance (UAB): Speed-of-processing training
— Dr. Jerri Edwards (South Florida): Cognitive training for healthy aging
— Dr. Daphne Bavelier & Dr. Shawn Green (Rochester): Action videogames and attentional skills
— Dr. Arthur Kramer (Illinois): Strategy videogames and executive functions
— Dr. Yaakov Stern (Columbia): The cognitive reserve and neuroimaging
— Dr. David Rabiner (Duke): Objective assessments for ADHD
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Bird-Eye View of the Growing Field
Chapter 2. Market Survey on Beliefs, Attitudes, Purchase Habits
Chapter 3. The Emerging Competitive Landscape
Chapter 4. The Science for Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health
Chapter 5. Consumers Adopting Crosswords 2.0?
Chapter 6: Healthcare and Insurance Providers — A Culture of Cognitive Health
Chapter 7: K12 School Systems- Ready for Change?
Chapter 8: Military, Sports Teams, Companies, Brain-Performance Link
Chapter 9: Future Directions‚ Projections and Bottlenecks
Companies profiled include: Advanced Brain Technologies, Applied Cognitive Engineering, Brain Center America, Brain Resource, CNS Vital Signs, Cogmed, Cogstate, CogniFit, Cognitive Drug Research, Dakim, Houghton Mifflin, Learning Enhancement Corporation, LearningRx, Lumos Labs, Marbles: The Brain Store, Nintendo, NovaVision, Posit Science, Scientific Brain Training, Scientific Learning, TransAnalytics, vibrantBrains, Vigorous Mind, Vivity Labs.
More on the report by clicking on The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009.