Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Sleep, Tetris, Memory and the Brain

As part of our ongoing Author Speaks Series, we are honored to present today this excellent article by Dr. Shannon Moffett, based on her illuminating and engaging book. Enjoy!

(and please go to sleep soon if you are reading this late Monday night).

Two years ago I finished a book on the mind/brain, called The Three Pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its MysteriesShannon Moffett-Three Pound Enigma . Each chapter profiles a leader in a different aspect of mind/brain research, from neurosurgery to zen Buddhism, from cognitive neuroscience to philosophy of mind. One of my subjects was Dr. Robert Stickgold, a zany, hyper-intelligent mensch of a Harvard sleep researcher. When I met him, I was in medical school and having a grand old time—I’d exacted an extension of my tenure beyond the customary four years, so I had enough time to write the book, do my coursework, and have a life. I was busy, but still got enough sleep, had time to exercise daily, and even went for dinner and a movie sometimes. Although I found Stickgold’s work interesting, there was a part of me that just didn’t get it.

Fast-forward to the present, when I am a resident in emergency medicine at a busy inner-city trauma center; I have two-year-old twins and a husband with a 60-hour-a-week job of his own. I do not exercise. I do not eat unless I can do something else productive at the same time, and even when I do get to sleep in my own bed, my slumber is fractured by the awakenings of two circadianly disparate toddlers. It seems to take me twice as long to “get” new concepts as it used to, and I never feel like I’m functioning at top speed. In short, I am a mess. And NOW I get what Stickgold’s work is all about, and understand that he is both quantifying and explaining exactly what I’m feeling.

Read the rest of this entry »

Scientific American Partner Network

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Also, please visit us tomorrow Monday to read a superb article on Sleep and the Brain by Shannon Moffett, author of the superb book The Three Pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its Mysteries. Moffett recently appeared on the PBS special The Brain Fitness Program, which aired nationwide on PBS.

Have a nice Sunday!

Brain Fitness and in the Press

Fitness TrainerGrowing media attention on the brain fitness field. At least on the “Healthy Aging” segment (I predict the media with catch up soon with developments in other areas, from cognitive training for kids and adults with ADD/ ADHD to stroke and TBI rehabilitation, to peak performance for corporate training).

First, a superb article by Leslie Walker at the Washington Post: Cross-Training Your Brain to Maintain Its Strength

Quotes:  “A growing body of research suggests that mental activity in middle age and earlier can help later in life. As a result, Web sites such as are springing up to offer online games to people of all ages, while blogs like provide commentary on the fledgling industry.” (Note: we can also provide commentary on the commentary!)

“People who engage in very challenging tasks — not just in work but during leisure activities such as reading, crossword puzzles, bridge, chess and travel — tend to slow down their mental aging process very significantly,” says Breznitz, who is also a member of Israel’s legislature and has developed a brain-training program called MindFit.”

“Also contributing to the brain workout boom are state-of-the-art imaging techniques that have allowed scientists to validate a theory developed decades ago. By taking detailed pictures of brain neurons, scientists watch parts of the brain that had seemed dormant light up and assume new responsibilities in response to stimuli. Theoretically, this means brain decay can be halted or even reversed.”

“The brain is constantly rewiring and recalibrating itself in response to what you do,” says Henry Mahncke, whComputer Classroomo holds a PhD in neuroscience and is vice president of Posit Science, the San Francisco developer of the Brain Fitness software. “It remakes itself into a more efficient operation to do the things you ask it to do.”

Comments: the article touches many key points. I especially enjoy the quote “To be effective, scientists say mental activity must become progressively more challenging. Otherwise, the brain adjusts and learns to perform repetitive tasks with less effort”, a key message I make often in my lectures to explain why well-designed programs can be more effective than doing crossword puzzle number 512,789. The article also relates how many retirement communities and senior centers and individuals are trying out the new brain fitness programs coming to market, and shows some healthy skepticism on the state of the research. Now, this is an invitation to the reporter to interview neuropsychologist Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg to get the full picture of the science behind the field, since these programs haven’t appeared in a vacuum. Our 10-Question Evaluation Checklist can provide useful guidance to anyone considering a program.

Boomers use online brain games to stave off dementia (AccountingWeb)

Quotes: “The Internet offers a plethora of brain games for those who don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper or don’t want to purchase games. AARP, for example, offers plenty of free games on its site. More games appear at, including a page that contains the Top Ten Neuroscience Brainteasers, and you can sign up to have the College Board e-mail you the SAT question of the day.”

“The generation that refuses to age is not going to sit back and wait for Alzheimer’s Disease and other signs of dementia to take hold. Instead, savvy Baby Boomers are expanding their minds (no, not the way they did in the 60s) with the aid of the computer, puzzles, and games. A brain health movement is sweeping Read the rest of this entry »

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