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!