Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and Brain Fitnessbrain 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.

Announcements

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.webinar

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

The brain fitness field holds exciting promise for the future while presenting clear opportunities and challenges today. The good news is that there are more tools available than ever before to assess and train a variety of cognitive skills. The bad news is that there are no magic pills and that consumers, while satisfied overall, seem confused by competing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this early-stage market can mature in a more rational, structured manner; but there is much work to be done. We estimate that the size of the U.S. brain fitness software (i.e., applications designed to assess or enhance cognitive abilities) market in 2008 was $265M – growing 18% from $225M in 2007, and representing an annualized growth rate of 38% since 2005. Growth came in roughly equal parts from two segments: consumers (grew from $80M to $95M) and healthcare and insurance providers (grew from $65 to $80). K12 school systems remained mostly flat. The military, sports and corporate segment continued to expand but from a lower base.

Advances in neuroscience and the interest of baby boomers in the concept and implications of neuroplasticity are driving popular interest and effort into retaining mental sharpness. This in turn has fueled the interest of healthcare and insurance providers to test and introduce brain fitness products. A variety of developments in 2008 underline the sector’s annual growth and plants seeds for significant future breakthroughs:

Innovation by pioneering institutions: We estimate that around 300 residential communities added computerized cognitive training programs in 2008, making for an estimated accumulated total of over 700. Insurance providers Allstate and OptumHealth launched major initiatives, while the USA Hockey League announced an upcoming hockey-specific brain fitness software package.
Research themes got reinforced:
1) Lifestyle, led by aerobic exercise, can improve cognition and reduce dementia risk,
2) Building the cognitive reserve through leading mentally stimulating lives provides neuroprotection to help stay sharper longer,
3) Specific cognitive abilities can be assessed and enhanced through the use of appropriate tools.

Funding events and acquisitions: A number of developers raised money during the year: Dakim ($10.6m), CogniFit ($5m), Lumos Labs ($3m), Scientific Brain Training ($1.5m), Vivity Labs ($1m). Scientific Learning bought Soliloquy and Posit Science bought Visual Awareness.

Public policy & public sector initiatives:
1) a new US Army policy required computerized cognitive screenings of all soldiers before deployment,
2) the Government of Ontario invested $10m in Baycrest to develop and commercialize brain fitness technologies.
3) The Mental Health Parity Act will take effect in January 2010,
4) a growing emphasis by Medicare to reduce hospital readmissions (which can be predicted by patient’s functional status, including cognitive functioning).

Market Survey

In January 2009 we conducted an online survey to understand emerging beliefs, attitudes and habits among decision-makers and early adopters. Highlights of the 2,000+ responses were:

61% of respondents Strongly Agree with the statement “Addressing cognitive and brain health should be a healthcare priority.” But, 65% Agree/Strongly Agree with “I don’t really know what to expect from products making brain claims.” In sum, interest and confusion.
The top three out of ten predictions (“Over the next 5 to 7 years we will see…”) with the highest percentage of respondents who Strongly Agree are: 1) “…a wide selection of computer-based programs, for different uses” (33%), 2) “…more locations and tools integrating physical and mental exercise” (27%), and 3) “…brain fitness becoming a mainstream topic, for most if not all ages” (27%).

Customer satisfaction among buyers (both of electronic products and puzzle books) was good overall but could be better. To the statement, “I got real value for my money,” the results were: 18% Strongly Agree, 35% Agree, 33% Neutral, 11% Disagree, 3% Strongly Disagree.

Top four products among buyers: 1) Posit Science, 2) Puzzle Books, 3) Nintendo Brain Age, 4) Lumosity.com. They seem to attract different demographic groups, and present different levels of customer satisfaction: 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.” Given very different price points, the rank changes with “I got real value for my money”: Lumosity.com (65% Agree), Puzzle Books (60%), Posit Science (52%), Nintendo (51%).

Competitive Landscape

In 2008 the competitive landscape started to become more clearly defined, with a number of players taking the lead in specific niches both on the assessment and training sides of the market.

Our Market and Research Momentum analysis resulted in the categorization of twenty-one companies into four groups to better predict long-term sustainability of company and approach.

- Leaders: Brain Resource, Cognitive Drug Research, Lumos Labs, Posit Science
- High Potentials: Applied Cognitive Engineering, Cogmed, CogniFit, Houghton Mifflin, NovaVision, Scientific Brain Training, Scientific Learning, TransAnalytics
- Crosswords 2.0: Dakim, Nintendo, Vivity Labs
- Wait & See: Advanced Brain Technologies, Brain Center America, CNS Vital Signs, CogState, Learning Enhancement Corporation, Vigorous Mind

Our product analysis shows that the products with higher levels of clinical validation are also the ones focused on more specific cognitive needs. It is important to evaluate the clinical validation per cognitive skill(s) targeted, together with other product attributes, to find a potential product to match specific needs. Not even the training products with relative higher levels of clinical validation, by Cogmed and NovaVision, should be seen as the best intervention for every single individual and purpose.

The Science

There is growing evidence that cognition is more malleable that once thought, and that lifestyle, non-invasive interventions, and invasive interventions all play a role in augmenting or maintaining cognitive abilities. With that context, technology-based assessments and training tools may be an important part of the overall mix.

Computerized programs have been found to be an efficient and scalable way to assess and train a range of specific cognitive skills. However, they have not been found to be “general solutions” that can address all cognitive priorities for everyone. Consumers and professionals need to make informed decisions about which, if any, tools may be worth trying without falling prey to manufacturers’ inflated claims or negating the value of those tools as a general principle.

We asked thirteen leading scientists to examine the state of the research, and emerging implications, in five areas:

The neuroprotective value of cognitive activity in general: this is well established through a variety of long-term epidemiological studies.

The importance of using cognitive assessments as predictors of driving safety: driving may well become one of the major areas where cognitive assessments and training can play a significant role in the next few years. Update: in July 2009, AAA announced a new initiative to deploy Posit Science’s DriveSharp to Assess and Train Older Driver’s Brains

The value of computerized cognitive training targeting working memory, auditory processing, visual processing: a growing amount of published evidence shows the clear benefits, and the limitations, from different training approaches.

The cognitive effects of action and strategy videogames: it is impossible to answer the question “are videogames good or bad” without clarifying a) which videogames, b) good or bad for what? Specific games are showing the kind of benefits that justify educational and health uses.

The need for objective markers: innovative approaches are trying to solve this major bottleneck.

Customer Segments

The demand for brain fitness software presents different dynamics in each of the four main customer segments:

Consumers: “Brain fitness” is quickly becoming a mainstream cultural phenomenon – with all of the opportunities and challenges that this development represents. On the one hand, it was time for adults of all ages to start paying more attention to the impact of lifestyle options on cognitive health, including the potential usefulness of new tools beyond crossword puzzles and Sudoku, driven by recent scientific findings such as adult neuroplasticity and the cognitive reserve. On the other hand, the overwhelming amount of superficial media coverage and aggressive claims is creating significant confusion among consumers, and skepticism among researchers and healthcare professionals.

Healthcare and Insurance Providers: A good number of innovators are actively testing and incorporating a variety of brain fitness tools, which over time should help better integrate cognitive health issues into mainstream healthcare. Seniors housing operators have quickly been adding cognitive training to their range of health and wellness activities. Insurance companies are running major initiatives aimed at driver safety and improving the accuracy of diagnostics. Drug companies are adding cognitive testing to their trials. Growing evidence is supporting the use of specific cognitive interventions in clinical conditions such as attention deficits and stroke/traumatic brain injury, among others.

K12 School Systems: Despite growing potential, there were few meaningful market developments in this segment in 2008. Revenues and the competitive landscape were basically stagnant. It is in the applied research area where we are starting to see seeds of potential future growth, given emerging evidence that cognitive training does not only contribute to cognitive development but, when directed appropriately, can also impact academic performance in subjects like math and reading.

Military, Sports Teams, Corporate: Three of the trends we identified last year, including baseline assessments, training to improve performance, and applications for the aging population, continued and grew significantly in 2008. First, the US Army introduced a new policy requiring mandatory computer-based cognitive baselines for soldiers before deployment, in order to better identify the extent of potential brain damage such as Traumatic Brain Injury. Second, the USA Hockey League partnered to develop a new cognitive simulation training to improve the performance of hockey players. Third, the Conference Board and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives launched a booklet and website to raise awareness about cognitive fitness issues among large corporations.

Future Directions

Innovative partnerships will be required to transform the growing amount of mainstream interest and research findings into a rational, interdisciplinary, and sustainable approach to brain/ neurocognitive fitness. There are no “magic pills” or “general solutions” but there are useful tools when used appropriately. Better information, assessments, taxonomies and integrated research efforts are required for the field to mature. The priorities are not the same for all individuals, or for all objectives (such as safer driving, preventing Alzheimer’s symptoms, improving memory). The field holds much promise, but the picture is complex.

We continue to predict that between now and 2015 brain fitness will become a mainstream concept, consumers and professionals will be able to leverage better tools, and that a growing ecosystem will enable this opportunity.

The key question, of course, is how much value will computerized cognitive assessment and training tools deliver in the real world? The US brain fitness software market may grow to be between $1 billion to $5 billion by 2015. Whether the market reaches the high end of that range or stays closer to the lower end depends on how the whole field addresses the most important problems.

When asked “What is most important problem in the field?” respondents to our survey prioritized Public Awareness (39%), Navigating claims (21%), Research (15%), Healthcare Culture (14%), Lack of Assessment (6%), and Other (5%). We believe that in years to come we will see progress in all those areas, and a deeper understanding of “Who needs what when?”, the most important unanswered question so far.

The Webinar

On Tuesday September 29th, we will host a 90-minute webinar to review the findings of the report in more depth (60-minutes) and discuss our clients’ perspectives and questions (30-minutes).

Time: Tuesday September 29th, 9am Pacific Time/ noon Eastern Time.

To order the report and access report and webinar, click Here. (only $975 -a 25% discount- using Discount Code Frontiers2009 before September 28th).

To preview several pages of the report, click Here. To view an infographic, click Here.

If you are an existing client, we will contact you directly with Registration details.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

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