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Brain Improvement and Cognitive Fitness- Fact or Fiction-


									You may already have a Nintendo Brain Age game, or at least have heard of it. You
may also have read recently that start-up Lumos Labs raised $3m to develop "brain
training games".

From the press release:

- "Lumos Labs is at the center of a booming interest in cognitive exercise and the
emerging science about the remarkable plasticity of the brain," said Amish Jani of
Pequot Ventures.

This and other developments (such as the success of Nintendo Brain Age, and the
PBS special devoted to brain plasticity) are signs of growing interest and an incipient
market still in an immature stage--and that has resulted in much misinformation and

Consumers, educators and health professionals will be reading more and more about
programs like Posit Science, Dakim, Cogmed, Fast ForWord, MindFit, Lumosity,
Happy Neuron, FitBrains, MyBrainTrainer, and more.

The good news is that the brain is more flexible than once thought. It can be improved,
no matter our age.

The bad news is that it is difficult to separate marketing from scientific claims, and to
understand which program, if any, may be a good complement to other healthy
lifestyle choices.

The reality is that, in this emerging field, no single company or product has an
overwhelming amount of efficacy research behind. There is no General Solution, but
useful tools for specific groups of people with specific goals, and budgets.

Let me address some typical questions:

- Do these programs cure Alzheimer's? No program can claim that it specifically
delays or prevents Alzheimer's disease beyond general statements, such as that mental
stimulation together with other lifestyle factors (nutrition, physical exercise and stress
management) can contribute toward building a cognitive reserve that may reduce the
probability of Alzheimer's-related symptoms.

- What can brain training do? Human cognitive abilities evolve in a variety of ways
with aging. Some improve, such as pattern recognition and emotional self-regulation;
some decline, for example, speed of processing, working memory and novel
problem-solving. Certain mental abilities have proved to be trainable, though, and this
provides the opportunity to improve brain performance and quality of life, potentially
prolonging one's independence and autonomy.
- How do I evaluate whether any program is good for me or my clients, patients or
residents? Ask what cognitive skills you want trained. Some programs present the
benefits in such a nebulous way that it is impossible to tell whether or not they will
yield any results. The general wording "Brain training" itself is of limited benefit
because such activities as gardening or learning a new language "train" the brain, too.
One must ask whether an improvement experienced in a brain training program will
transfer to real life, and usually that happens when a person trains the cognitive skill
or skills that are specifically relevant-there are no general solutions to all problems.
Assessments are needed that are distinct from the exercises.

- Is this just a fad that will soon vanish, or a first wave of many? I believe technology
is emerging as a welcome tool for evaluating and training specific brain functions, and
this will enable the increasingly rapid growth of a cognitive fitness field that can
parallel physical fitness.

Now, what do you think?

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