This is a typical question raised by the market as the business of computerized brain fitness software grows. It is clear that the human brain is capable of being shaped with greatest growth seen perhaps in the latter rather than younger years. There are a variety of products to choose from and the consumer is correct to have questions about the what and why regarding these software training games.
Research has been published supporting both the short term and long term benefits (five years) of using computerized brain fitness software to improve cognitive skills. A recent study from the University of Michigan showed study participants improved their fluid intelligence after consistent training. Researchers explained the utility of such training due to its complexity and transfer of skill acquisition to multiple cognitive domains, not just to the skill being trained. This is one way computerized training is explained to be better than crossword puzzles that may simply train a procedure.
To the extent that brain fitness software provides novel and complex stimuli (e.g. brain games), is fun, and is practical with application to everyday mental challenges I believe it will survive and thrive. If the software training programs are mundane, non personal and not fun the consumer will likely not remain engaged. The latter is a necessary factor for success of the computerized training.
Consumers would be wise to review the science behind the computerized training, select products that they will use, products that provide training in real world cognitive challenges, and that are fun.
The Washington Post reported on a recent study out of the National Institute of Mental Health. The study found that different brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in social status or sees people who are socially superior or inferior. The brain seemed to activate in a similar manner to winning money.
The scientists indicate that our position in social hierarchies affects motivation as well as physical and mental health. Past research has supported the relationship between social rank and health. For example, persons with a lower social status had a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and to die early. Psychological effects to include loss of control over one’s environment may be one trigger for the relationship to poor health.
The brain seems to have a hard wiring for hierarchical information and that this information is important to us. Our desire to compete, play to win, and to be motivated are directly linked to brain circuitry.
This most likely explains our civilization’s interest in sports, gaming, and competition. Our own individual struggle to reach our specific potential in areas of school, work, or skill development also fit into this model. It may not be such a stretch to suggest that our drive to personal health, including brain health involves such brain circuitry and that computerized mental exercises that provide explicit feedback on our performance is one tangible example of competitive health behavior.
Click here to read the Washington Post article
Brain health is now a popular practice with more attention being drawn to this part of our being everyday. Dr. Nussbaum has proposed a 5 factor lifestyle to promote brain health to include (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), (3) socialization, (4) spirituality, and (4) nutrition. While each of these factors has research-based activities that demonstrate a relationship to reduced risk of dementia, there has not been a study that measures the effect of all factors integrated into a comprehensive program.
Teaming with Emeritus Assisted Living, Dr. Nussbaum completed a six week pilot investigation on the effects of his brain health lifestyle on memory, mood, medical measures such as cholesterol, and quality of life. Twelve independent living and healthy adults (mean age 84) took part in the six week study and were compared to a control group of nine older adults. The two groups did not differ on age, education or other demographic variables. No study participants had dementia, psychiatric illness, or substance abuse.
Study participants completed one research based activity in each of the four factors on a daily basis and they consumed a special brain health diet for the nutrition factor. Controls simply lived their life with the same routine. Results include a significant improvement in delayed recall (20-25 minutes delay), reduced weight, enhanced quality of life as measured by self-report and staff based observations, and general knowledge of the human brain and brain health.
This is one of the first studies to look at the effects of a comprehensive lifestyle approach on brain health.
The NY Times recently reported on a new study that showed it is possible to improve brainpower. The study demonstrated that training the brain in particular cognitive or thinking processes actually help to improve those particular processes. This should make sense as the brain is a dynamic system that will respond to environmental input.
The resistance to such belief lies in the long held and erroneous position that the human brain is a rigid and fixed system that is somehow set by age five! We now know the human brain has “plasticity” and can be shaped across the lifespan. In fact, your brain does not know how old it is, it simply wants to be stimulated.
New research from the University of Michigan supports the power of brain fitness (e.g. brain games) on the ability of the brain to acquire new information. Our ability to learn new information historically has been labeled “fluid intelligence.” This tends to be information we did not acquire in school and that we have no background exposure. In contrast, information acquired in school that is over learned is referred to as “crystallized intelligence.”
Researchers found that new learning (fluid intelligence) increased with increased exposure to the training stimuli. They asserted that fluid intelligence can increase with appropriate training. They are not sure how long the gains will last after training stops, but gains are made with intervals of 8 to 19 days of training for 30 minutes a day.
While research is catching up on what probably is a very practical and basic reality: the human brain, like many of our systems is influenced by environmental input. In the case of the brain the stimuli tends to be information that is processed from the outside world. Repetitive brain exercise (e.g. brain games) will have an outcome and it is reasonable to think that it will be positive with regard to learning. And yes, there will also be a neurostructural and neurochemical change as well.
To read the NY Times article, click here
German scientists have found success in reversing the plaque buildup in brains of mice. The plaque deposits are one of the hallmark features of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and this finding may lead to viable treatments for humans.
The compound reportedly effectively blocks an enzyme responsible for development of the plaque. The compound attaches itself at the precise site on the cell wall where the toxic action occurs.
When injected directly into the brains of mice, scientists indicate the compound works well. The next step is to determine if the compound can cross the blood brain barrier, the protective shield around the brain. Animal tests have begun to determine if medicines given by mouth or injection have the high rate of efficacy as direct injection into the brain where there was a 50% reduction in plaque formation within four hours. Scientists believe that if the testing on animals goes well a human version could be available in five to ten years.