Update: Public Libraries as Health Clubs for the Brain

Here you have the July 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.

Public libraries have long offered the public more than books. And now, recent demographic and scientific trends are converging to fundamentally transform the role of libraries in our culture. You may enjoy reading this recent article I wrote for the May-June 2009 Issue of Aging Today, the bimonthly publication of the American Society on Aging: Public Libraries: Community-Based Health Clubs for the Brain.

The Big Picture

Can You Outsmart Your Genes? An Interview with Author Richard Nisbett: David DiSalvo interviews Richard Nisbett, the author of Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, who has emerged as a persuasive voice marshalling evidence to disprove the heredity-is-destiny argument.

Yes, You Can Build Willpower: Daniel Goleman discusses how the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day, how they migrate to where they are needed, and how each cell can make around 10,000 connections to other brain cells. Implication? Meditate, mindfully, and build positive habits.

Bird’s Eye View of Cognitive Health Innovation: Alvaro Fernandez opened the Cognitive Health Track during the Games for Health Conference (June 11-12th, Boston) with an overview of the serious games, software and online applications that can help assess and train cognitive abilities. The presentation is available Here.

Brain Tests and Myths

The Best Memory Tests, from the Alzheimer’s Action Plan: Dr. Murali Doraiswamy discusses the Pros and Cons of the most common assessments to identify cognitive problems, including what the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) does and doesn´t, and innovative computerized neuropsychological tests.

Debunking 10 Brain Health Myths: Does your brain have a “Brain Age”? Is a Magic Pill to prevent memory problems right around the corner? Does “aging” equal “decline”? Check out the facts to debunk 10 common myths on brain health.

Resources

Free Webinar: On July 21st, 10am Pacific Time/ 1pm Eastern Time, Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez, co-authors of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, will cover the main highlights from this new book and address the questions submitted by readers. You can learn more and register HERE.

Research References: This is a partial list of the scientific studies reviewed during the research phase of SharpBrains´s new book, organized by relevant chapter, for those of you who like to explore topics in depth by reading original research (perhaps PubMed should promote itself as a never ending source of mental stimulation?).

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers on Brain Fitness: Are you ready to test your knowledge of several key brain fitness metrics? For example: How many soldiers in the US Army have gone through computerized cognitive testing before being deployed, and why?
Finally, a request: if you have already read The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, and could write a brief customer review at Amazon.com, we would surely appreciate! The Amazon.com book page is Here.

Best regards, and enjoy the month

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Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

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 FitnessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (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 “it” in “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’s “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”.

And this great book review by an Internist Physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Potato?:

“…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.”

—Doc Gurley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (available via Amazon.com Here, review copies available upon request).

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)

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Update: Is Grey the New Gold (the Longevity Dividend)

Here you have the June 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.

The full schedule of the SharpBrains’ powered Cognitive Health Track at the Games for Health Conference, June 11-12th in Boston, is now available online. 13 sessions will feature 18 innovators and thought-leaders representing developers, universities, clinicians, consumers, insurance companies, and more. You can learn more and register.

Longevity Dividend

Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Grey is the New Gold: The Kronos Longevity Research Institute has released a new report summarizing the state of aging research that includes an excellent introduction into the Longevity Dividend, a “theory that says we hope to intervene scientifically to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related diseases. Delaying aging just seven years would slash rates of conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease in half.” With that context in mind, is the National Institute on Aging getting its fair budget share?

Resources

Visual Representation of the State of the Market 2009: Paul Van Slembrouck  summarizes and beautifully presents the main findings of our 150-page market report, The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2009. Enjoy this excellent graphic.Book Club Discussion Guide: The goal of our just published book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, is to inform you, but also to open a much needed debate to contribute to our collective brain fitness. We encourage book clubs to read and discuss the book, and suggest 10 questions to kickstart the conversation. Please do send us your answers and impressions!

: The goal of our just published book, , is to inform you, but also to open a much needed debate to contribute to our collective brain fitness. We encourage book clubs to read and discuss the book, and suggest 10 questions to kickstart the conversation. Please do send us your answers and impressions!

Education & Learning

10% Students may have working memory problems: Why does this matter?: A recent study screened over 3,000 school-aged students in schools in the UK and found that 1 in 10 was identified as having working memory difficulties. Working memory is our ability to store and manipulate information for a brief time, and difficulties in this brain function may lead into difficulties in reading and mathematics. Dr. Tracy Alloway reviews the study and elaborates.

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts & Learning: Nicky Pentilla comments on a recent report sponsored by the Dana Foundation and a related Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit. “Arts education influences learning and other areas of cognition and may deserve a more prominent place in schools.” Of particular note is the finding that showed significant brain plasticity as a result of instrumental music instruction are repeated practice.

8 Tips To Remember What You Read: Despite television, cell phones, and “twitter,” traditional reading is still an important skill. Dr. Bill Klemm offers some tips to read with good speed and comprehension: Read with a purpose, Skim first, Get the reading mechanics right, Be judicious in highlighting and note taking, Think in pictures, Rehearse as you go along, Stay within your attention span and work to increase your attention span, Practice.

News

Corporate Wellness, Cognitive Assessments and Memory Fitness Programs: a great MarketWatch article provides an overview of how major insurers and large employers are starting to add brain health to their corporate wellness activities.  The Stanford Longevity Center released a statement urging consumers who buy a range of memory products to make informed decisions (we released the book above precisely with that goal in mind).

Have a stimulating month of June!

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Market Report Finds Growth, Promise and Confusion

Here you have the April 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.

We are excited to release our 2009 market report The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009. To be formally released on May 4th but available now for our clients and readers, this report aims to inform decision-makers at healthcare, insurance, research, public policy, investment and technology organizations about important developments in the brain fitness and cognitive health space.

2009 Market Report

The State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2009: This new 150-page report finds The State of the Brain Fitness/ Training Software Market 2009 reportsustained growth in the brain fitness software market (from $225m in 2007 to $265m in 2008) and promising seeds for future growth, combined with increased confusion given aggressive marketing claims and lack of education and standards. The report includes, for the first time, a Market & Research Momentum Matrix to categorize 21 key vendors, 10 Research Executive Briefs written by 12 leading scientists, and the complete results of our market survey with 2,000+ respondents. You can learn more, and acquire the report, Here.

News and Resources

Cognitive Health News April Round-Up: New cognitive track at the Games for Health conference, bilingual brains, poverty’s effect on the brain and working memory due to stress, diabetes, neuroenhancing drugs, Kellogg’s settlement with the FTC, neurocognitive testing in the military.

Normal Aging vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: Dr. Murali Doraiswamy shares his very insightful views on the key question, “How can we help the public at large to distinguish Alzheimer’s Disease from normal aging — so that an interest in early identification doesn’t translate into unneeded worries?”, based on his recent book The Alzheimer’s Action Plan.

Upcoming Guide

The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: It seems every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which often contradict what you read the month before: Does Gingko Biloba improve memory? Can physical exercise help you stay sharp as you age? Which  “brain fitness program”, if any, is worth your money? Why is managing stress so important for memory and the brain?. This new book (available both in print and Kindle versions) aims to answer those questions -and more. We will send you an email announcement when the book is ready for purchase, in late May.

The Big Picture

Do Art Classes Boost Test Scores? Is there a “Mozart Effect?”: Some researchers suggest so; others are not convinced. Karin Evans, through our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine, offers a very thoughtful review of the evidence. She also challenges us by asking, “Now, is this the right question?”

Improving the world, and one’s brain, at the same time: The Goldman Environmental Prize recently recognized seven social entrepreneurs who are clearly helping improve the state of the world. Now, the “state of the world” does include their very own brains – as you may have seen in a recent study.

Brain Teasers

Brain plasticity and daily live: If you lived in London, and wanted to grow your hippocampus, which job would you choose?

Stimulate your Concentration Skills: when one really wants to memorize a fact, it is crucial to pay attention. Dr. Pascale Michelon challenges you to count a few simple letters.

Have a great May

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Brain News: Lifelong Learning for Cognitive Health

Here you have the March edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health Brain Fitnessand brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Newsletter by email, using the box at the top of this page. I know I am biased – but do believe this Newsletter issue might well be our best so far. I hope you find the time to enjoy it!

Bird’s Eye View

Top Articles and Resources in March: Highlights – a) great articles in SciAm Mind and the Wall Street Journal, b) new resources (book and free DVD) by the Dana Foundation, c) research studies on how our cognitive abilities tend to evolve as we age, the impact of physical exercise on the brain, the lack of long-term effectiveness of ADHD drugs, and how working memory training may benefit math performance.

Brain Fitness Survey: Over 2,000 thoughtful responses to our January survey (Thank You!) reinforce the need for public awareness initiatives and quality information to help evaluate and navigate lifestyle and product claims, as well as the need for more research, an expanded healthcare culture, as more. Given this context, we are publishing The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness in May 2009, a book with 18 Interviews with Scientists, Practical Advice, and Product Reviews, in addition to our annual market report for professionals and executives (to be published in April). If you have ideas to help us promote the book, please reply to this email and let us know!

Lifelong Learning

Elderhostel’s Marty Knowlton dies at 88: He helped launch Elderhostel, reinvented “aging”, “retirement” and “learning”, and contributed to the brain fitness of millions of individuals as a result.

MetLife Mature Market Institute Report: Gerontologist Fay Radding presents the findings of a recent MetLife report, concluding that “As individuals age, meaningful interactions and purposeful activity become even more valued and crucial to cognitive health- and cognitive health itself becomes more of a priority.”

Change Your Environment, Change Yourself: Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains in his recent book that, “The greatest enemy of change is routine. When we lapse into routine and operate on autopilot, we are no longer fully and actively conscious of what we’re doing and why. That is why some of the most fertile situations for personal growth—those that occur within new environments—are those that force us to exit our routines and actively master unfamiliar challenges.”

Food for Thought

Michael Merzenich: Brain Plasticity offers Hope for Everyone: Dr. Ginger Campbell recently interviewed Dr. Michael Merzenich. Podcast Quote: “Whatever you struggle with in a sense as it stems from your neurology, the inherent plasticity of the brain gives you a basis for improvement. This is a way underutilized and under-appreciated resource that well all have.”

Therapy vs. Medication, Conflicts of Interest, and Intimidation: What started as an academic dispute regarding disclosure of conflict of interest is now snowballing. Dr. Jonathan Leo criticized two important aspects of a recent a study published in JAMA that compared the efficacy of therapy vs. medication. JAMA editors then tried to intimidate Dr. Leo and his university. An investigation by the American Medical Association is under way.

ETech09 on Life Hacking and Brain Training: Here you have the presentation Alvaro Fernandez delivered at O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2009, a gathering of technology pioneers with a growing interest in science and biology topics.

Attention!

Distracted in the Workplace?: In a very-thoughtful 2-part interview (part 1 here, part 2 here), author Maggie Jackson challenges us to “First, question the values that venerate McThinking and undermine attention.”

New Study Supports Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promising findings from the first well-designed controlled trial on the effect of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD.

Twitter

Finally, I wanted to let you know that you can follow quick SharpBrains updates and some of my thoughts via Twitter: http://twitter.com/AlvaroF

Have a great National Car Care Month in April! (now, wouldn’t you please pay at least equal attention to Brain Care than to Car Care?)

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Update: Does Cognitive Training Work?

Here you have the February edition of our monthly newsletter covering cognitive health and brain fitness topics. Please remember that you can subscribe to receive this Brain FitnessNewsletter by email, simply by submitting your email at the top of this page.

Cognitive training (or structured mental exercise) definitely seems to work – as long as we define properly what “work” means, don’t expect magic cures, and help navigate options. Please keep reading…

Interview: Baycrest

Interview with Baycrest’s CEO Dr. William Reichman: Discussing the recent Centre for Brain Fitness at Baycrest, Dr. Reichman suggests that “we have an opportunity to make major progress in Brain Health in the XXI century, similar to what happened with Cardiovascular Health in the XXth, and technology will play a crucial role.” A major obstacle? We need a consensus on “widely accepted standards for outcome measures”.

Does It Work?

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?): The growing field of cognitive training (one of the tools for brain fitness) can appear very confusing as the media keeps reporting contradictory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, without a deeper understanding of the scientific evidence. Dr. Pascale Michelon, SharpBrains’ Research Manager for Educational Initiatives, analyzes a couple of recent studies, clarifying what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

It Works, and It Doesn’t Work: the IMPACT study (a major, multi-site study on the Posit Science auditory program) will be published at the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in April. Results support that cognitive training works – but doesn’t support the grandiose “brain age” claims we see too often.

Cognitive Training can Influence Brain Biochemistry: Dr. David Rabiner discusses a recent scientific study that “shows that brain biochemistry can be modified by experience”, and that computerized cognitive training (Cogmed working memory training) can provide that experience.

The Big Picture

Making Healthy Choices – Primare Care and Prevention: a panel at the recent World Economic Forum explored why “New markets and industries are arising – “silver industries” such as financial services, health, housing and hospitality geared to senior citizens. Longevity needs to be linked to health – including cognitive health – and lifestyle choices play a major role in health.”

Enrich your environment now and benefit your future offspring: Dr. Robert Sylwester reports that “all sorts of long held-beliefs about our brain and cognition are being re- examined by cognitive neuroscientists” because of fascinating studies such as the one  he reviews (with mice): “The study’s findings seemed to suggest that acquired characteristics can be genetically transmitted…long-term benefits accrue from a stimulating early environment that encourages curiosity and exploration.”

Managing Emotions

From Distress to De-Stress: helping anxious, worried kids: In a detailed 2-part article, (Part 1, Part 2), Dr. Jerome Schulz provides great tips on how to help children learn to self-regulate emotions, adding that “Teachers, occupational therapists, physical education teachers and parents need to actually teach children (of all ages) how to get themselves into a physical state of being relaxed. This doesn’t happen automatically. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many adult yoga classes!”

Lie to Me, Paul Ekman and Biofeedback: You may have watched the new series Lie To Me, with Tim Roth, based on the work of Paul Ekman. The introduction to the second episode shows why what are called “lie detectors” are nothing but biofeedback systems that measure physiological anxiety.

News

Brain Games for Baby Boomers: round-up of other recent news, covering the effects of gaming, cognitive training for driving skills, and brain fitness classes.

Neurocognitive assessments and sports concussions: a new study and a new resource to understand and address the 1.6 to 3.8 million cases of sports-related concussions that occur annually in the United States.

Brain Teaser

How will you, your organization, your neighbors, participate in Brain Awareness Week, March 16th-22nd, organized by the Dana Foundation with the participation of thousands of outreach partners, including SharpBrains? You can find event ideas, excellent resources (yes, including puzzles), and a calendar of events, Here.

Have a great month of March!

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Brain Fitness Update: Best of 2008

Below you have the most recent edition of our monthly Newsletter. Enjoy:

Best of 2008

Announcing the SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008: Neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg has written a very stimulating and accessible book on a crucial topic for our Information Age: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory. We have named it The SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008, and asked Dr. Klingberg to write a brief article to introduce his research and book to you. Enjoy it here.

Top 30 Brain Fitness Articles of 2008: We have compiled SharpBrains’ 30 most popular articles, written by thirteen Expert Contributors and staff members for you. Have you read them all?

November-December News: No month goes by without significant news in the field of cognitive fitness. Summarized here are 10 recent developments worthy of attention, including an upcoming brain training product for ice hockey players, my lecture at New York Public Library, and more.

Interviews: Videogames, Meditation

Are videogames good for your brain?: A landmark study by Dr. Arthur Kramer and colleagues has shown that playing a strategy videogame can bring a variety of significant mental benefits to older brains. Another recent study, also by Kramer and colleagues, does not show similar benefits to younger brains (despite playing the same game). How can this be? Dr. Kramer, who has kindly agreed to serve on SharpBrains’ Scientific Advisory Board, elaborates.

Meditation on the Brain: Dr. Andrew Newberg provides an excellent overview of the brain benefits of practices such as meditation. He recommends, “look for something simple, easy to try first, ensuring the practice is compatible with one’s beliefs and goals. You need to match practice with need: understand the specific goals you have in mind, your schedule and lifestyle, and find something practical.”

The Need for Objective Assessments

Cognitive screenings and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America just released a thoughtful report advocating for widespread cognitive screenings after the age of 65 (55 given the right conditions). SharpBrains readers, probed by Dr. Joshua Steinerman, seem to agree.

Quantitative EEG for ADHD diagnosis: Dr. David Rabiner reports on the findings from a recent study that documents the utility of Quantitative EEG as an objective test to assist in the diagnosis of ADHD. If this procedure were to become more widely used, he suggests, the number of children and adolescents who are inappropriately diagnosed and treated for the disorder would diminish substantially.

Shall we question the brand new book of human troubles?: The fights over the new version of the psychiatric diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, are starting to come to light. Dr. Vaughan Bell wonders why the public debate avoids the key question of whether diagnosis itself is useful for mental health and why psychometrics are simply ignored.

Resources for Lifelong Learning

Education builds Cognitive Reserve for Alzheimers Disease Protection: Dr. Pascale Michelon reviews a recent study that supports the Cognitive Reserve hypothesis – mentally stimulating experiences throughout life, such as formal education, help build a reserve in our brains that contributes to a lower probability of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

5 Tips on Lifelong Learning & the Adult Brain: Laurie Bartels asks us to please please 1) challenge ourselves with new learning, 2) remember that neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are hallmarks of our brains, 3) check for mis-learning on an ongoing basis, 4) more visuals, less text, 5) move it, move it – start today!

Neuroscience Core Concepts: We all have heard “Use It or Lose It”. Now, what is “It”? The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has just released a user-friendly publication titled Neuroscience Core Concepts, aimed at helping educators and the general public learn more about the brain.

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