What a great time to be alive if you are interested in your own brain and how to promote its health! With the daily reports of a new finding on how to promote brain health, the development of new companies with products for brain fitness (e.g. brain games), and with the boomers generating a booming interest in this part of their being, we really are in the “golden era of brain health.”
I am so very fortunate to have been involved with brain health more than a decade ago and to witness what I described then as the emerging “Brain Wave” that was coming. It is here and we will all be better for the fact that the human brain has found its way onto the radar screen of health.
A national and world wide discussion of the human brain with a focus on proactive lifestyle towards promotion of brain health is a great and needed thing. Dementia is a real problem and a growing concern. We have the ability to be proactive and to focus on an optimistic and positive path forward as we try to implement research-based behaviors to brain reserve. By building our own brain reserve across our lifespan we probably increase our chances of delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The next step to this growing brain wave is for the governmental bodies to pass legislation that incorporates national emphasis on the brain similar to what we have done for the heart; for health care payers to include incentives for leading a brain health lifestyle that might recognize lifelong learning, brain fitness, use of pedometers, diet, and meditation as critical ingredients to brain health, and for continued innovation in the business world to apply research to the market.
What a great day to be interested in promoting your own brain health!
We have no cure or perfect prevention against progressive dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, research over the past decade or more has established consistent links between lifestyle and the ability to delay the onset of such dementias. I have proposed a “Brain Health Lifestyle” to include five major factors: (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation, (3) socialization, (4) nutrition, (5) and spirituality.
A recent interview on ABC News suggested that physical exercise may be the best means of preventing AD today, better than medications, intellectual activity, and supplements. Studies on mice bred to develop plaques in their brains consistent with AD were exposed to an exercise regimen or not. Those mice that exercised had 50 to 80 percent less plaque than the brains of mice that were passive. Other studies have demonstrated generation of new brain cells in animals that exercise and a relationship in humans between physical exercise and increased cognitive performance.
One important point is that our body does not operate in a fragmented manner. I describe the brain and body as a miraculous symphony. One system directly impacts another and both health and disease effects can be experienced as a result throughout the body. Exercise is one example of a behavior that has positive impact on multiple systems of the body including the brain. The same can be said for the other four brain health lifestyle behaviors noted above.
While I am not yet sure that any one behavior such as exercise is better than another in promoting brain health, I do champion regular exercise as a very important behavior with positive brain health effects. My view is to approach brain health from an integrated manner using the five part brain health lifestyle. This approach fits with the complex integrated reality of our bodies and brains.
The market has witnessed a surge in the brain fitness software industry. More companies are purporting to be the best at training your brain and helping to sharpen cognitive or thinking skills.
One primary concern for this industry is to create software that is both fun and personally relevant. In fact, a primary focus of FitBrains is to be the leader of fun and personal relevance within the industry of brain fitness software. I believe that brain games can be both fun and have real life and personal value to a consumer.
We are all confronted with life’s daily challenges, each of which places demands on our brain for solutions or action. It is within this arena that FitBrains has captured the personal value: creating brain games that actually tap into real world challenges for the consumer. How many times have you lost a pair of socks in the laundry, forgotten the name of someone you met, misplaced your car keys or perhaps the car itself in the parking garage? Life provides us with real world games and the opportunity for real world mental exercise.
FitBrains takes this reality and champions brain fitness for the fun and personally relevant. We believe your arousal level will increase and you will be more deeply engaged in our brain games. Why? The task is more valuable or meaningful to you as a person. Companies that simply develop memory games or language games without the value of personal relevance are simply tasks to be completed. Personalization sparks long term commitment by the consumer for a healthy brain.
Your brain operates electrically and chemically. Neurochemicals form the dynamic foundation for our thoughts and emotions. Many neurochemicals have been identified while many more have not. Neurochemicals important to mood include Serotonin, Neuropinephrine, Neuroadrenaline, and Dopamine. These neurochemicals remain in healthy balance for most of us, but for some there is imbalance and a mood disorder can result.
Effects of a mood disorder such as depression or mania include functional decline, interpersonal difficulty, and cognitive impairment. Depression is far more common than realized and represents a major chronic illness similar to high blood pressure. Depression not only affects the specific person, but it can also affect negatively those close to the patient and to potential colleagues. Depression and mania impairs thinking by reducing focus, attention, memory, and ability to execute plans. A depressed brain cannot process as deeply as necessary and this can result in rather significant cognitive impairment at times. Uncontrolled mania results in high distractibility, poor attention, and generally impaired cognitive functions across the board.
Treatments for mood disorder are effective and include use of antidepressants, mood stabilizers for mania, psychotherapy, and following a brain health lifestyle as espoused by Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com). Use of software similar to that of FitBrains that helps to stimulate mental activity can also be of some use for a brain that may be sluggish. The most important thing is to first identify depression when it arises, take it seriously, and get some help.
A leading cause of brain disease in the United States is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Named after Dr. Alzheimer who published a paper in 1907 describing the cognitive and functional decline of a female patient, this disease now affects nearly 5 million people. It is estimated that those affected by AD will triple by 2050.
AD is the leading cause of progressive dementia. The disease typically erodes memory, spatial functions, language, personality and functional ability. The course of the disease approximates 10-12 years and those over the age of 85 are most at risk. Additional risk factors include female gender, family history of dementia, mood disorder, diabetes, and stroke. The cause is not known and there are no known cures or prevention.
Treatments exist to help reduce the impact of particular symptoms and early detection has advanced significantly. New treatments are being researched and these should be to market in the near future. Lifestyle for brain health has also generated new attention and interest. One aspect of a brain health lifestyle is mental stimulation, a primary function of FitBrains.
If your loved one is experiencing memory loss and there is some concern about this change it is advised that he or she receive a comprehensive dementia examination. This will help to discern if the memory and other cognitive changes fall outside the range of normal and if dementia is present. Early detection is important because existing treatments can be started.
As we enter a new year, I like to reflect on the past year and what that means for the one ahead. It’s been five years that I have been developing the brain fitness market, and have seen a lot of changes – both positive and negative. When I first started, there was minimal interest in the concept of exercising your brain. In the last two years however, there has been an explosion in interest from adults of all ages and media coverage and I have been interviewed by leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Women’s Health.
This has been great news for both the industry and the general public. We are witnessing a shift in society, and a general awareness about the importance of brain fitness. We saw a similar shift in the 1980s with the physical fitness movement. Researchers and the medical profession pushed the positive health benefits of physical activity, but it took a while for society to fully integrate physical exercise into daily life. Thanks to recent scientific research we now know that the brain is malleable and we can build brain connections at any age. Just ten years ago, this was not thought possible.
Nintendo has also helped open up the brain game market with their extremely successful Brain Age game. This has, of course, created numerous copycats and flooded the consumer market with one-off and weak products. Yet, I am thankful to Nintendo as they were able to bring awareness of brain games to the general public. They had seen the success of their game in Japan and realized there was an aging population worldwide. In addition, they had the resources to market Brain Age and tap into this underserved area. Many people in the scientific and brain fitness community scoff at their game, finding it scientifically weak and a disservice to the consumer. I would have to agree that their product is scientifically weak and I have many of my own complaints. However, Nintendo has hit on something that I understand. They implemented the concepts of “engagement” and “fun factor” and it is one of the main reasons for their success.
So, what does this mean for 2008 and the next five years? There are those who say that the brain fitness market is becoming saturated and is in its later stages. I have seen the market develop up until now, and couldn’t disagree more. Brain fitness is still in its infancy and will see real growth in the next five years. Awareness about brain fitness has now passed the tipping point but we are still falling short in the area of “adoption” into our daily lives. The companies that truly understand what individuals are looking for will be rewarded with enduring customer loyalty. For us at Fit Brains, we believe the “adoption” of brain fitness will be answered through “relevancy”, “motivation” and a “fun factor”. Yes, it is possible to have fun and be scientific too – it just hasn’t been done! Some doctors and people might argue this, but it’s the key to full integration into daily life. People don’t stick with things they don’t enjoy, especially things like long-term health goals that are often difficult to maintain. If we can make an important aspect of a daily routine more accessible and engaging, people will be more likely to do them.
The team here at Fit Brains is extremely excited about 2008! We plan to have our first launch very shortly. Fit Brains will provide a brain games, tools and features that is fun and engaging. We hope people of all ages adopt a brain fitness routine so that we can keep our most important asset strong and healthy!
Our last blog on brain health discussed the importance of mental stimulation (e.g. brain fitness, brain games) as one factor in my five factor brain health lifestyle. Clearly FitBrains provides a fun and healthy brain fitness regiment that is considered mentally stimulating.
Similar to mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), your brain appreciates it when you are physically active. The reason is simple: every time your heart beats 25% of the blood output from that one heartbeat goes directly to your brain! I refer to this as “market share.” If your brain goes even several minutes without sufficient blood and the oxygen carried by the blood will suffer potential damage with functional and cognitive loss.
Research highlights specific physical activities that reduce the risk of dementia (promote brain health). These include:
- Walking on a daily basis
- Aerobic exercise three times a week
- Treadmill, Stepmaster, Stationary bike exercises
- Write with the non-dominant hand daily
Interestingly these activities employ both sides of the body, thereby stimulating both sides of the brain. An ambidextrous brain is probably a more adaptive brain than one that is highly specialized in one hemisphere.
Remember, the more active you are the more your brain will be nourished with the blood-glucose and oxygen it demands. You will have a happy brain!