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.
“Brain Training” is a huge and growing industry with very expensive market research reports! Like this one:
There exist a number of excellent, current, science-based guides to maintaining cognitive fitness and brain health (e.g. this one).
There exist excellent scholarly reviews of the efficacy of “brain fitness” programs (e.g. this one).
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.)
Many helpful insights into memory loss can be gleaned from literature such as Lisa Genova’sStill 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.
First cup of coffee at 5:00 this morning. My mind drifts to yesterday when standing in line to pick up a Walgreen’s prescription I observed the woman ahead of me challenged at the task of recalling the last four digits of her phone number and by the request that she use a key pad to enter the four digits. Will that be me in a few years? Is that me now? What was that password again?
I no sooner write a blog piece about memory failure and about brain fitness training and I am inundated with emails about the topic. Am I paranoid? Or is Big Brother, Google,Siri or some Cookie Monster watching me?:) I’ve explored that topic before in another blog piece. This deluge of emails reminds me of the time I was investigating subliminal perception claims and my beloved canine companion dog, Robin the Newf, started receiving snail mail about cassette tapes that promised subliminal messages which could improve her self-esteem, memory and libido.
A glance at my email suggests a number of “brain fitness training” opportunities. A Brain U Online gives me a friendly reminder of the availability of a brain training session invitation. I receive an invitation from Blinkist suggesting that I read a synopsis (hmm–Wordpress originally wrote the word “synapse” for me—-spooky) of the book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect your Brain for Life. I am alerted in another email that Episode #4 (of 10) “Six ‘Brain Hacks’ to Enrich Your Brain” from a gohibrow.com course awaits. An interesting NPR story invites me to explore the brain enhancing benefits of bilingual education. I receive an invitation to take an AARP approved “Life Reimagined” (and United Health Care supported) free online course on “Brain Power: How to Improve Your Brain Health” taught by Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D. There is ad from Posit Science to become a “Smart Cookie” ( there is that Cookie Monster again!) 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 as a holiday gift a copy of the most recent review in Psychological Science in the Public Interest whose link I included in my earlier post.
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? Should I become involved in creating Elder hostel educational experiences? Maybe I should learn to play the piano like my great grand nephew Cole! So many questions. What fun to try answering them with students, seniors, data, and critical thinking over the next few years. Stay tuned.