Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Workouts at the brain gym.

Patricia Marx writes an engaging article in The New Yorker, "Mentally Fit," that describes her foray into various regimes for building cognitive and emotional muscle, to stave off the declines in memory and attention capacity that come with aging, and are accelerated by vascular dementia and Alzheimer's pathology.

Staving off dotage is not cheap. According to a recent report issued by SharBrains, the amount spent on brain fitness in 2012 was more than a billion dollars, and by 2020, it is estimated, that figure will exceed six billion dollars. Most of the merchandise is some kind of software (note: which have been the subject of several MindBlog posts). …. to name just a few: Cogmed, Lumosity, Brain Games, Jungle Memory, Cognifit, MindSparke, MyBrainSolution, Brain Spa, brainTivity, Brainiversity, Brain Metrix, Mind Quiz, Your Brain Coach, Brain Exercise with Dr. Kawashima, Nintendo's Brain Age, MindHabits, NeuroNation, Happyneuron. There seem to be enough products to give each of your synapses its very own person-training program.
The cost of these programs ranges from zero to $1,500. The author chose BrainHQ, a platform offered by Posit Science, a San Francisco company co-founded by respected neuroscientist Michael Merzenich. It's exercises center around making your eyes and attention more childlike and sparky, countering the decay that makes the peripheral vision of a sixty-year-old three-quarters as panoramic as that of a twenty-year-old. After training for an hour a day over six weeks, scores in an array of different exercises were higher across the board. Merznich is probably correct in stating that the observed stronger, faster, more accurate and reliable brain performance after training comes from synaptic remodeling in the brain, a change that he says can persist for a year or more, but that does slips back past the neurological position that you were at when you began the training. (Motivated readers can email me to obtain a PDF of the article.)

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