Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Michael Merzenich on Brain Training, Assessments, and Personal Brain Trainers

Dr. Michael Merzenich 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 the rest of this entry »

The Brain Fitness/ Training Market: An Executive Summary

Over the next weeks we are going to be shar­ing the Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry of our mar­ket report The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2008 with mem­bers and clients of sev­er­al part­ner orga­ni­za­tions (the British Colum­bia Seniors Liv­ing Asso­ci­a­tion, where I will be speak­ing this Thurs­day, Neu­rotech Reports, where I will speak on Octo­ber 24th, and the Health 2.0 con­fer­ence, where we are spon­sor­ing a pan­el on gam­ing for health), so it is only fair that we first share it with our own read­ers.

Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry

A spate of recent glob­al news cov­er­age on brain fit­ness and brain train­ing reflects a grow­ing inter­est in nat­ur­al, non drug-based inter­ven­tions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This inter­est is very time­ly, giv­en an aging pop­u­la­tion, increas­ing preva­lence of Alzheimer’s rates, and soar­ing health care costs in the US that place more empha­sis than ever on pre­ven­tion and lifestyle changes.

US brain fit­ness mar­ket: sig­nif­i­cant and grow­ing

We esti­mate the size of the US brain fit­ness mar­ket was $225m in 2007 – more than dou­ble what it was in 2005. Where­as K12 school sys­tems were the largest buy­ers in 2005, con­sumers were respon­si­ble for most of the growth from 2005 to 2007. We esti­mate that the con­sumer seg­ment grew from a few mil­lion in 2005 to $80m in 2007, and fore­see sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket growth dri­ven not only by con­sumers but also by health­care and insur­ance providers.

Mar­ket dynam­ics

As we speak to diverse audi­ences about this emerg­ing field around the coun­try we are fre­quent­ly asked the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

- Why are we talk­ing about the brain fit­ness field at all?

Over the past decade, teams backed by neu­ro­sci­en­tists around the world Read the rest of this entry »

Mobile Brain Training, Scientific Learning, and More News

Some recent brain train­ing and health news: Monkey memory

1) A Promis­ing Debut for Com­put­er­ized Ther­a­pies

2) Fit­ness pro­tects brain in Alzheimer’s patients

3) Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram Clas­sic comes to Mac

4) Posit Sci­ence gains own­er­ship of Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing (NSDQ: SCIL) Brain­Con­nec­tion.

5) Brain train­ing on your mobile

6) You must remem­ber this: how the mind works

Here you have the links and my com­men­tary for these news: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Software Trends

Some very inter­est­ing brain fit­ness soft­ware mar­ket news:

1) Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing To Buy Out Solil­o­quy

- “Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing Corp. has announced that it will acquire Solil­o­quy Learn­ing from JTT Hold­ings. Both Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing and Solil­o­quy pro­vide tech­nol­o­gy solu­tions for edu­ca­tion. The acqui­si­tion will cost SLC about $11 mil­lion and is expect­ed to be com­plet­ed this month.”

- “Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing is the devel­op­er of Fast For­Word, a fam­i­ly of read­ing inter­ven­tion tools tar­get­ed toward stu­dents who are char­ac­ter­ized as strug­gling learn­ers and designed to devel­op the required “neu­rocog­ni­tive skills” for read­ing and learn­ing in gen­er­al. Solil­o­quy is also a read­ing inter­ven­tion devel­op­er.”

Com­ment: this acqui­si­tion con­sol­i­dates Sci­en­tif­ic Learn­ing (NSDQ: SCIL) as the lead­ing com­pa­ny in the edu­ca­tion seg­ment of the brain fit­ness mar­ket. It will be inter­est­ing to track what research gets done on the neur­al and cog­ni­tive effects of Solil­o­quy, since Sci­en­tif­ic Learning’s Fast For­word is backed by exten­sive lit­er­a­ture.

2) Tech­no­me­dia Part­ners With SBT to Accel­er­ate Its Inter­na­tion­al Expan­sion

- “Tech­no­me­dia, a Cana­di­an provider of tal­ent man­age­ment and human cap­i­tal devel­op­ment solu­tions, announced its part­ner­ship with the SBT (Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing) group, a Euro­pean provider of train­ing and eval­u­a­tion of cog­ni­tive func­tions.” Read the rest of this entry »

Exercise and The Brain in Newsweek

The new edi­tion of Newsweek brings us a great cov­er sto­ry titled Stronger, Faster, Smarter. “Exer­cise does more than build mus­cles and help pre­vent heart dis­ease. New sci­ence shows that it also boosts brainpower—and may offer hope in the bat­tle against Alzheimer’s.” Check it out!

We addressed the ques­tion Is phys­i­cal fit­ness impor­tant to your brain fit­ness? recent­ly:

Accord­ing to Fred Gage, PhD, of the Salk Insti­tute for Bio­log­i­cal Stud­ies, “We now know that exer­cise helps gen­er­ate new brain cells, even in the aging brain.

Accord­ing to the research of Richard Smeyne, PhD at Saint Jude Children’s Research Hos­pi­tal in Mem­phis, with just two months of exer­cise there are more brain cells and that high­er lev­els of exer­cise were sig­nif­i­cant­ly more ben­e­fi­cial than low­er amounts, although any exer­cise was bet­ter than none. He also found that Read the rest of this entry »

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