Brain fitness program study reveals visual memory improvement in older adults

A soon-to-be-published study coming out of UCSF is claiming to reveal a direct link between brain training through a cognitive fitness program and improved mental functioning in day to day life. This particular study targeted working visual memory – something we are using on a constant basis in our everyday lives – and found that this skill improved nearly 10% in the period following the training. From the lead researcher, Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at UCSF :

“This confirms our understanding that the brains of older adults, like those of young people, are ‘plastic’ – the brain can change in response to focused training”
“The study shows that perceptual improvements with simple discrimination training can transfer to improved working memory in older adults, and it also shows that this increase in memory accuracy is linked to changes at the neural level.”

Brain Games and Brain Health

The human brain is known to start slowing down by the age of 25. Fortunately, at any age, if you use it, you can reverse it. One of the most essential parts of brain fitness and rebuilding your brain is building up your “brain reserve” Brain reserve is the ability for the brain to recognize itself and build new connections. A brain with a strong reserve is one that has formed many cellular connections and is rich in brain cell density. A strong reserve is generally believed to have the ability to postpone the onset of mental deterioration, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, neuro-degenerative diseases must work longer and harder to manifest in a brain that has built up strong reserve. To strengthen brain reserve, you can do things that are both novel and complex to stimulate a variety of areas in the brain. The fastest and easiest way to build brain reserve is to play “brain games.”

Building the connections to improve your brain health can be done with brain games that provide a normal, balanced routine of mental stimulation. Using these brain games is a way to not only stimulate your brain but provide other necessities your brain requires to exercise. To be most effective, brain games should target the following areas:

Memory, Concentration & Attention, Language Skills, Visual & Spatial, Executive Functions (Logic & Reasoning)

Brain games are definitely a wonderful way to work and challenge your brain. Games like Suduko, crosswords and electronic games can work on improving your brain’s speed and memory. These types of games rely on logic, word skills, math and more. These games are also fun. Fifteen minutes a day can seriously impact your brain health and you can find them for free all throughout the Internet.

Different types of brain games have been shown to improve your working memory and increase your fluid intelligence. You can find these types of games at Lumosity. Lumosity is a brain training program with scientifically designed games that aim to improve brain function. $6.00 a month provides you with daily games shown to target brain stimulation. They provide a free trial for you to try it out before committing.

Other benefits of brain games are increasing your mental alertness, and awareness, mood elevation, concentration, and quicker thinking. These are huge rewards for a few minutes of entertainment each day.

If you think about it, Our brain is one of the most extraordinary and complex things in the world, so it is worth nurturing, and challenges. We don’t even realize that our brain is capable of making huge and an “unlimited” number of synaptic connections, each of which is a pattern of thought. Although our brain has such amazing capabilities, it still feels like thinking can be hard work, and because we are human we take the path of least resistance, or try not to think more than we have to. Using brain games is a great way to not fall into a pattern of laziness and to keep your brain in active shape the way it should be. And keep in mind “if you use it, you won’t lose it”

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at onlinedegrees.org, researching areas of online universities. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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Fine Sensory Discrimination

Over the past year, I have put a lot of effort into learning to identify the different types of trees in the area. This is no small challenge, as some of them differ only in minute details, and there are numerous different factors that one must consider to properly make an identification. It occurred to me today on my walk that my brain has probably changed a bit as a result of this learning process. I’d be willing to bet that that I am way better at discriminating between shades of brown and gray than most people (because of spending a lot of time looking at bark) and also at remembering the structure of irregular shapes (because of all the time looking at leaves). In general, it seems this process has increased my awareness and attention to fine detail.
(more…)

walk barefoot?

I just came across a very interesting suggestion that I’d like to pass on to you. It comes from Michael Mezernich, one of the pioneers in neuroplasticity & founder of Posit Science, via the book The Brain That Changes Itself. Dr. Mezernich postulates that much of our decreased stability as we age comes from the fact that we wear shoes all the time. Perhaps that sounds crazy, but the logic behind it is quite sound. (more…)

Brain fitness decreases your chance of depression

A new finding has been released from the ongoing Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study. Not surprisingly, participants who were engaged in some sort of brain training or cognitive exercise were 38% less likely to develop depression (according to the assessment of self-reports). This makes sense as brain exercise is just a part of overall mental health and the more active and capable you are the less likely you are to get bored or get all bummed out about losing you mental faculties.

And there you go, another reason to spend some time each day playing with your mind…

Brain Fitness Programs and Websites

I figured it would be helpful for me from a business perspective, as well as for you for entertainment/enrichment purposes, to have a catalog of all the other websites offering brain fitness programs or some other collection of brain games/exercises. So I am setting off to compile such a list. At first, I expect it will start of very simply – just names and urls – but eventually I would like to make it more like a catalog/review of the various brain fitness programs around the web. For starters, I am going to divide them into two sections, one containing more ‘clinical’, ‘professional’ programs and another focused more on casual brain games, brainteasers and puzzles.

Brain Fitness Programs
(online)
CogniFit Personal Coach – $20/mo
Lumosity – $80/yr with limited free trial, 20+ games targeting speed, attention, memory, problem solving and flexibility
Happy Neuron – $10/mo with limited free trial, 35 online games plus 5 Wii games
Mind360 – 8 games, free at the moment since it’s in beta mode
BrainGymmer – play 3 brain training games for free, make cognitive tests, upgrade to a premium membership for full access and your personal progress screen, offers various brain training memberships , pricing from $3.65 per month. Training areas: Memory, Visual Perception, Attention, Processing Speed, Logical Thinking.
MindFlow – this looks really interesting, I plan to look more into this and may dedicate a future post to it
FitBrains – Memory, Concentration, VisuoSpatial, Executive Functions, Language

(software purchase)
BrainBuilder – $200 for purchase of software which includes brain games, exercises, music and a brain coach
Posit Science – $395 for purchase of software consisting of 6 games
MindSparke – $47 for single user, $72 for family pack

Brain Games, Brainteasers and Mind Puzzles
ActiBrain
BrainMetrix
BrainCurls
Cognitive Labs
Games for the Brain
Braingle
BrainBashers
Thinks.com
BrainArena
BrainTraining 101

And I found a few other interesting things as I surfed about:
- I came across a website called BrainTrainingGames.net which has much more detailed reviews of a lot of the above websites.
- I also found something called The Brain Muscle Workout which I am including here as an aside. It might seem overdone or gimmicky – perhaps it is, I certainly haven’t tried it – but I definitely believe that doing physical workouts and exercises of specific motor and coordination activities can positively impact overall mental health and ability.
- Again straying a little from games and exercises but staying on the main topic of brain fitness, you might want to look into Dynamic Mental Fitness
- A new blog on the industry: Brain Fitness Trends
- A guide dedicated to the science and practice of improving your mind: Brain Guide

The NeuroActive Bike

While this seems a little odd, I must say that I like the idea. Exercising increases blood flow to the brain and increases mental functioning, so why not exercise your brain while exercising your body? Check out this post on the neuroactive bike

meditation and neuroplasticity

if you are truly interested in changing the way your mind works, there are few more effective tools than meditation. several different research studies have shown that this ancient practice can physically transform the structure of your brain and by extension your mental thought patterns. Effective meditation can unlearn bad habits while laying down the groundwork for good ones. I have read a whole book on this topic and it’s fascinating, this is not some kooky pseudoscience stuff but the real deal. the structure of your brain is a relic of the way that you choose to use it, and by conscious efforts, you have the ability to reprogram yourself in ways that you might not imagine. Here’s a few articles you might want to check out on the topic:

Meditation and neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity 101
The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, by: Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Sharon Begley

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