Category: Aging

AgingCurious David

Sharpening My Brain

I’m looking forward later today to (virtually) participating in the 2017 SharpBrains Virtual Summit.  As I await its starting, I am flooded by emails from brain fitness companies. Lumosity claims to have “…adapted age-old-techniques of Mindfulness training into a series of easy-to-learn courses and activities.” I’ll learn more about that on Thursday from a Summit presentation. BrainHQ from Posit Science shares with me their latest claims. A new blog piece is published by Smartbrainaging.

I now am a subscriber to a number of very science-based brain health resources coming from Harvard Medical School and UC Berkeley,  I also now monitor National Institute of Aging clinical trial research. There are some intriguing ongoing randomized trials investigating cognitive, dietary and behavioral interventions (such as exercise programs) for mild cognitive impairment such as these.

I am looking forward to opportunities to interact at the summit with some of these CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and fellow investigators and to continue those relationships over the next few years.

My student research team has now spend a semester investigating brain fitness research claims. We are in the process of reflecting on what we have learned. Here are a few preliminary thoughts which will be expanded into a book.

 

  1. “Brain Training” is a huge and growing industry with very expensive market research reports! Like this one:
  2. There exist a number of excellent, current, science-based guides to maintaining cognitive fitness and brain health (e.g. this one).
  3. There exist excellent scholarly reviews of the efficacy of “brain fitness” programs (e.g. this one).
  4. Many cognitive training studies and brain training companies overpromise results, cite the same methodologically faulty studies, ignore best practice experimental designs (see point 2 above), and fail to take into consideration placebo effects (See this study.)
  5. Many helpful insights into memory loss can be gleaned from literature such as Lisa Genova’s Still Alice and other like works (Such as these).

Time to log into the summit. To paraphrase the proverb, all work and no play makes David a dull boy.

Agingbook writing with studentsbrain fitness trainingCarroll University USACurious David

Brain Fitness Training: Fact vs. Fiction

 

There is much interest today in using technology to improve one’s brain power,  one’s health, and one’s well-being. Take a moment to conduct an online search on the topics of “brain fitness for seniors,” “brain fitness games,” “brain fitness apps, “and “brain training.” You’ll  be overwhelmed with the number of results. Unfortunately the social media and advertising claims are far removed from the science upon which legitimate claims can be made. How can one decide which claims are “snake oil,” which represent vaporware, and which are based upon  well-done research? Which programs are merely entertainment? Which make false or unverifiable claims? Which claims are patently wrong? Are there some vaild brain training interventions that are appropriate and proven effective for special populations? How can one protect or improve one’s brain heath?

In part because a number of Carroll alumni have been actively involved in research involving aging and memory (e.g. Michelle Braun, John DenBoer and Mark Klinger), and in part because I am approaching the age of 70, I’ve taken an increased interest in memory research.  I’ve always been fascinated by the too much-neglected research of Harvard’s Ellen Langer exploring concepts of mindfulness and mindlessness. I found especially fascinating her book Counterclockwise, though I am still skeptical about its implications for age reversal. [There IS empirical evidence (needful of replication and extension) that subjective perceptions of age can be affected by the mere process of measuring variables related to aging].

A day doesn’t pass when I am not flooded with emails about  “brain fitness training opportunities” that I am implored to explore.  Brain U Online gives me a friendly reminder of the availability of a brain training session invitation.  Blinkist suggests that I read a synopsis of the book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect your Brain for Life.  I am alerted that Episode #4 (of 10) “Six ‘Brain Hacks’ to Enrich Your Brain” from a gohibrow.com course awaits my viewing.  An interesting NPR story invites me to explore the brain-enhancing benefits of bilingual education. I receive an invitation to take an AARP approved  (and United Health Care supported)Life Reimagined”  free online course on “Brain Power: How to Improve Your Brain Health” taught by Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D.  Posit Science urges me to become a “Smart Cookie” by joining their “…unique braining program … which unlike others… is backed by more than 100 published scientific papers”… I think that I’ll send them all  a copy of the recent review of brain training  research  n Psychological Science in the Public Interest (here is the link).

How does one separate the wheat from the chaff of these claims? Which avenues are promising and which are merely advertising promises? Will I really get smarter with five-minute lessons delivered to my inbox every morning? Do I want to? Would I be well-served by following my heart and attempting to (re) learn long forgotten Spanish? Would I be better served by exercising more? Learning how to play an instrument? Should I become involved in creating an Elder hostel educational experiences? So many questions. What fun to begin systematically answering them with talented students, data, and critical thinking.

Meet my Fall  2017 Carroll University student research seminar team. Jeff, Alexis, Sami, Abbey, Antonio, Nathan, Alex, Alex, and Ricky.

We have begun developing answers to questions such as these and are in the process of writing a short book sharing our findings. What questions would you like us to answer? Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

AgingCurious David

We All have Pieces of the Puzzle—and the Potential for Making New Pieces to Create New Pictures.

I have very few spare minutes today. With aging comes an increased awareness of the fact that I no longer can successfully delude myself about my ability to multi task (see this link). Fortunately I can count upon my trustworthy student research team and student research assistants to get things done in an excellent and timely fashion. They make me look better than I am. As I learned today, I also can learn so much from my former students. As I have shared several times in articles on LinkedIn, there are a multitude of under recognized learning opportunities and resources within one’s workplace (see my thoughts by clicking this link). We all have pieces of a solution to puzzling problems.

My research team is sharpening their learning tools – and their minds— on the purported efficacy of “brain-training” programs (click here for more).  Do they work? What are appropriate indices for assessing improvements? What claims do companies make for products related to brain training? How good are the studies cited? Are there differences in effectiveness as a function of age, expectations, or health of the customer?

During our first week together we have focused on team-building, assessing current critical reading skill abilities, and identifying what technology learning skills are most likely to advance our success. My research team created a Facebook group to facilitate communication among us. I would have chosen differently based upon my familiarity with the visionary work the past decade of Jane Hart identifying Top Learning Tools (click here for more about this). But I have already learned much about the strengths and weaknesses of this Facebook as a group communication tool.Nonetheless,  I can learn much from those like my talented students whom I mentor .

Having identified several individuals knowledgable about brain-training interventions and aging (all Carroll graduates!), we soon will be drawing upon their expertise (and their generosity) via Skype interactions. (Thank you in advance, John and Michelle). Though I have used Skype in the past to communicate with educators in Lithuania and Turkey, with former students and friends in Nicaragua and England, and with a nephew and his beautiful family in Switzerland, I am well aware that Skype is an evolving tool. My learning never ends. Also, there are numerous alternative tools which can accomplish the same communication goal (click here for some examples). Also, I have Skyped across a number of machines (Mac, iPad, PC, and phone) and Skype ids! Hence, I posted on Facebook a request for help from individuals who might be willing to help me practice Skype. That you, members of my extended Carroll Facebook community.

Yesterday I practiced Skyping within my office suite with one of my research assistants (who playfully morphed into a space alien) –and I learned how to morph into a frog. Thank you, Tia! Now if I can only figure out how to turn off those camera effects:)

It dawned upon me at 5:30 this morning that there probably are excellent Skype tutorials available to me on the dramatically improved LinkedIn Premium account I have invested in (Thank you, CEO of LinkedIn Jeff W.). I was correct. However, as I was about to invest an hour of my precious time going through an excellent tutorial there, a former student—Luis (now in Virginia) reached out to me via Skype with an invitation to join him in a Skype session. We systematically reviewed and discovered capabilities of Skype I need to know.  Thank you, Luis, for providing me with just in time learning.

Today I met with a very precocious first year student whom I first met when I interviewed her two years ago. Her mother and Aunt are both Carroll alumni. She taught me a lot even in my first sustained interaction. Thank you Deborah and Meredith for sending her my way.

Learning never ends. Don’t overlook the tremendous learning resources available to you by your reaching out to your employees, former students, and colleagues. Think outside your title and and outside your role.

 

 

 

 

 

AgingCognitive TrainingCurious David

Thanks for the Memories

 

I’m looking forward to returning to the classroom this week.  I’m particularly excited about what we may be able to accomplish in my research seminar with the ten students enrolled. The first two weeks will be baseline assessments of my students’ research skills. Reading (the novel, Still Alice—-and watching the movie; published journal articles–exemplary and poor research; popularized science articles), writing (blog pieces with me; self-published books; grant proposals); review (statistics and experimental design–designing DOABLE studies for every design that I teach in my book), and much development of thinking skills

Here are some earlier blogs I wrote as my thoughts began to focus on the topic I want to pursue “Brain Fitness Training Programs. I hope to tap into the knowledge of several Carroll graduates who share these interests.

Can one teach this old dog new tricks?

Is my old brain fit to be tied?

We’ll even tackle Tom Brady’s just gone public cerebral work out!

Time to discuss my plans for the course with Leo as we go for our pre-bedtime walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agingbrain fitnessBrainHDCurious DavidLumosity

Preview of Things to Come: “Brain Fitness” Research

This morning I sandwiched in a bit of very preliminary background work for my Fall Semester Research Seminar (assuming I get the minimum enrollment!). I’ve been too busy today to see if I’ve got the students!

I asked Alison to document my efforts as we try out different cameras and different screen casting software. Later I interviewed her about her Carroll experiences. Stay tuned!

AgingalumniCarroll ReflectionsCarroll University USACurious David

Can my old brain be (re)trained?

There are buildings on campus whose cornerstone bears a date before my birth. My father-in-law walked in some of these very buildings in 1936. Voorhees Hall was a women’s dorm when Walt walked this campus.

So many memories. Some converge; some change. Some researchers argue that memories change every time that they are retrieved.

With age comes my increased interest in the inevitable aging process. At one time or another I have written over 80 blog pieces (or drafts) about relationships between aging and memory.

Here are a few: (Clicking on all the links in each and viewing their contents might be a valuable brain fitness exercise!):)

  1. Thanks for the memories!
  2. I’m not sure that you will remember me but…
  3. Brain fitness training (Part 1)
  4. Brain fitness training (Part 2)

After consulting with my four student research assistants, I’ve decided to focus my Fall semester research seminar on the topic of “brain fitness”—fact and fad.  I am particularly intrigued by the promises of the program “BrainHQ.” Time to don my skeptical thinking cap: