Brain Tools: Resources for Enhancing Cognitive Performance

There are a raft of products and courses available to the general public who want to improve their cognitive performance. While there are simple methods, like stimulating your brain with cross-word puzzles and brain teasers, there are also more sophisticated techniques often developed by companies or individuals who have made their products available to the public. The links below are some of the products I have found in my online browsing, if you find any in your e-travels, you might like to suggest a few links too. I am not endorsing any of the products but am interested, not necessarily by the products, but by how the products fit into the market they cater for. Many scientists are sceptical, I am curious. Often what works for one person, may not necessarily work for another. This is true not only of placebos, but sometimes of proven therapies and medication.

 

One line of products I certainly would invest in myself (if I had the time and money) would be what could be called “Cognitive Gym” products. Just like any other organ, your brain needs to be exercised regularly to work efficiently. Therapists and clinicians are continually producing new tools to enhance cognitive performance. These tools can be simple memory games, or programs to retrain patterns of thinking. Often “Cognitive Gym” products can be fun and educational. For the moment, with little time to research the resources available (and little money to spend on them), I will stick to playing the piano and listening to my “Learn Portuguese” CDs.

 

Neurofeedback is another type of ‘brain enhancement tool’. It is a non-invasive technique that can be used to enhance normal cognitive performance or to accompany the treatment of neuropsychological and psychiatric disorders such as epilepsy and ADHD.

 

Brain Stimulation can often attract an audience because of the “crazy scientist” appeal (At least to my mind). Techniques, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, are constantly being developed and have been used to enhance creativity, concentration and attention. Some scientists are iffy about these tools, other people swear by them.

 

LINKS:

COGNITIVE GYM

Challenging Our Minds                             

Brain Gym Exercises for Executives                     

Cognitive Fitness                                        

Brain Bytes Training Programs                  

 

NEURO-FEEDBACK

Dr Diane                                                       

Scientific American Mind                            

Dr Daniel Amen                                           

EEG Spectrum International                                   

 

BRAIN STIMULATION

imusic for the brain                                     

Transparent Corporation                           

 

I’m sure there’s more out there that I have yet to find!

 

 

 

Mental Health in the Aging

The average life expectancy is at its highest ever in history. Brain cells are built to live up to 127 years. However, they do not divide and replicate the same way other cells do, and so their vulnerability to attack by radiation and free radicals is more problematic. Cell loss in the normal ageing brain is patchy. There is a small stock of stem cells from which neuronal regeneration is possible, but scientists are still only just learning of their full functions now. It is believed that the brain shrinks with age. Amongst European populations it can shrink by as much as 15% between the ages of fifty and sixty-five.  Much of this reduction is due to brain cells shrinking as they lose water, while the spaces in the brain (called ventricles) and the folds of the cortex (called sulci) enlarge. Blood supply also diminishes slightly with age.

Of greatest importance are the connections between nerve cells. It is these connections that must constantly battle for survival. The gift of prolonged life is not without its anxieties. We worry about losing our memory and about the reduction in our cognitive performance. While there is an increase in the range and complexity of our language, this is accompanied by an increased frequency of mistakes, forgetting words or misnaming objects. We should remind ourselves that with age, there are greater powers of reflection and contemplation. The wonderful gift of experience is to be rejoiced. The aging brain has a greater capacity to deal with complex emotions and to complement decisions with a raft of knowledge. While the ageing brain is slower, it is this slowness in decision-making that allows time for better decisions to be made—this is called wisdom.

 

Links:

                               

Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health

Alzheimers Association Brain Health                                

American Society on Aging                                    

Alliance for Aging Research                                               

Cognitive and Emotional Health                             

Mental Health and Aging                                         

Aging and Mental Health                                         

Mental Health through the lifespan                         

Mental Health and Wellbeing                                              

Ageing and Mental Health                                       

Center for Mental Health and Aging                                   

Department of Aging and Mental Health   

Integrative Neuroscience

Integrative Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary endeavour to build unified models of the brain from the various disciplines within the neurosciences. It is an effort to break down the boundaries and encourage a freer exchange of information across disciplines and scales. The highly jargonised world of science can often mean that findings from one area of science are completely incomprehensible to another. However, it is crucial that efforts are made to consolidate the knowledge from various streams within the brain sciences. From the micro-scale findings to the macro-scale findings, integrative neuroscience deeply informs clinical research and practice. It means that when a patient is diagnosed with a brain disease, we can typify the genetic, neurological, social and environmental influences on his/her condition. It is a form of diagnosis and treatment that has never existed before.

While two brains may perform the same function, the way in which they do it is never the same. Statistically it is almost impossible for the underlying connections of any two brains to be exactly the same. What does this mean? Well, it means that no two brains react to the same actions or events in the same way. You may jump out from a hiding place and scream “boo” at your best friend who freezes in fright, while someone else might react more aggressively. Similarly, if you administer a neuroactive drug to two different people, the effects can be dramatically different. That is why some patients who are prescribed medication for a brain disorder may get better, while other patients may have little or no reaction to the same drug. You will often find that Psychiatrists, neurologists and other clinicians will personalise treatments for patients. Whether the treatment is behavioural, cognitive or pharmacological, nearly all treatments must be personalized. These treatments can only become better when more people share their experience and knowledge of personalized medicine. So what is your story?

LINKS:

Integrative Neuroscience Links         

Journal of Integrative Neuroscience   

Brain Dynamics Centre                                                

Integrative Neuroscience Facility                                             

Centre for Integrative Neuroscience and Neuroengineering

Brainnet

Brain Resource Company

 

 

                          

Personalized Medicine

There is a large amount of variation in the manifestation of brain disease. There is also a large amount of variation in the response to treatment. Often patients are prescribed drugs on a trial-and-error basis until the right drug is found. This situation, multiplied across many cases, can lead to over-servicing, inefficiency and high expenses in the healthcare industry—not to mention the stress this places on individuals, their families and friends. Integrated Neuroscience could be heading towards an answer in dealing with the large amount of variation in the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders. This answer is called ‘Personalized Medicine’. A Brain-related Personalized Medicine approach matches genetic markers (gene-related information) with neuromarkers (brain-related information).

The brain is arguably the most complex organ of the body. It is subject to biological and environmental influences as well as the personal life history and experiences of individuals. A Personalized Medicine approach hopes to match treatment programs with the biological and psychological profile of each individual. With recent advances in biomedical science, this treatment ethic may be more realistic than ever before. Neurogenomics has gone some way in elucidating a vast number of genes that play a role in various brain disorders. However, a genetic approach alone is insufficient to diagnose and treat the development of brain disease. The combination of both genetic-markers and neuro- markers is crucial in the ultimate success of any one particular treatment.

Neuromarkers include observations of brain structure (using MRI), imaging of brain function (EEG, ERP, MEG, fMRI and PET) and psychological tests measuring social, emotional and cognitive performance. Further research is needed towards the orientation of Brain-related Personalized Medicine. Research will need to establish the links between genetic-markers and neuromarkers (genomic-neuromarkers) for use in diagnostics, drug development, treatment prediction and treatment efficacy monitoring. From here, clinicians will be able to better match the appropriate treatment for each patient according to the developmental stage of their disorder. The outcomes may even extend further to a preventative medicine that contributes to disability management, harm minimization, psychosocial and quality of life recovery.

Links:

The Biomarkers Consortium

The Personalized Medicine Coalition

Personalized Medicine Coalition

The Food and Drug Administration

The Royal Society

Dan Segal Report

The Brain Resource Company

 

The Brain Resource International Database is one methodology used to acquire genomic-neuromarker profiles. The Database pools data about genetic make-up, brain structure and function, cognition and psychology as well as the life history of participants.

These ‘genomic-neuromarkers’ will be incorporated in the next version of the DSM (DSM V) expected to be released in 2011.

Mental Health Tips

10 steps to better brain health:

 

 

1. A healthy diet. Glucose is the brain’s major source of energy, but a balanced diet is essential to body and brain function. Food with a low glycemic index (GI) like oats and bran as well as dark green leafy vegetables that are rich in magnesium are both believed to help brain function. Choline rich foods such as eggs and red meat are also thought to assist healthy communication between brain cells. Also, avoid substances that stress the brain and limit drugs like caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

 

2. Stimulate your brain. No, put the super-charged magnetic coil down! I’m not talking about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. I’m talking about involving yourself in new activities, playing an instrument, learning to speak a foreign language, solving brain teasers. Exercise the brain as you would the body. The Brain operates on a use-it or lose-it policy. So use it! Play sudoku, solve a crossword puzzle and test your skills at scrabble!

 

3. Keep a diary. A great way to deal with stress, emotional worries and to relax at the end of a hectic day or a busy week is to sit down and write. It’s a fantastic way to see what you have achieved, frame new goals and keep your emotions in balance. Also, writing notes for yourself helps convert information stored in your short-term memory to long-term memory. So get that creative energy flowing and put pen to pad!

 

4. Sleep well! Getting a good night sleep is essential for concentration. It has been shown that regular sleep-wake cycles are important in daily cognitive performance. Dreams may be important in the consolidation of memory. As we all know, it feels great to rise and shine after we have slept like a baby!

           

5. Regular exercise! It is important for your entire body. Exercise is believed to be important in maintaining neural plasticity in old age and aerobic fitness may in fact reduce the loss of brain tissue common in ageing. Exercise also releases natural hormones that lead to those ‘feel good’ sensations. Feeling good about your body is vital to brain health.

 

6. Regulate your couch-time. Too much TV weakens brain power. But a little TV is great mental stimulation. Balance is the key!

 

7. Socialise! Familiar smiles, friendly conversations and meaningful interactions are all part of a healthy lifestyle. The brain is the organ of society and socialisation is an integral part of brain health. Join a book-club, learn to dance, smile at a colleague!

 

8. Organisation. We all know the anxiety that misplacing the house-keys or forgetting an appointment creates. Avoid the stress and make a special place for items such as reading glasses, wallets/purses or the TV remote.

 

9. Relax. Spend time on a hobby, take your dog for a walk or just sit back in a comfortable armchair with a great book. Technique to relax are not only useful to reduce stress and enhance brain performance, relaxation methods have also been shown to play a positive role in emotional health. For example, mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease the recurrence of depression. Find a stress-reducing practice that suits your lifestyle and personal taste and then devote a balanced amount of time each week to it.

 

10. Positive thinking. Always look on the bright side of life (someone should turn that into a song)!

 

 

 

Transcultural Psychiatrists would certainly have a few dilemmas with the above list. The serious Neuroanthropologist probably does too! But what the heck, I put them here just for fun! Mind you, the list might lead to some interesting questions about what could be considered the definitive TOP 10 FOR BRAIN HEALTH applicable across cultures!

 

And now for some links:

 

How Culture May effect depression diagnosis

Mental Health Resources

Mental Health

Mental Health news

Mental Health America

Neurological Examinations

Interactive Health Tutorials:

Brain, The world inside your head

Brain Fitness

Cognitive and Emotional Health

Mental Health Council of Australia

The Human Brain

Brain Food

Meditation and Depression

Brain Activity influences immune function

Food for the brain

Brain Health

The Healthy Brain Program

Feed Your Brain

 

 

Darman’s eyes

This is Pak Darman:Pak DarmanPak Darman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although pictured playing the Kecapi (a traditional Sundanese string instrument), Pak Darman can also play the suling (a type of bamboo flute) and the tarompet (a double reed woodwind instrument). At home he works as a masseur but a large part of his income (which is not that large) comes from being hired for local performances. A regular gig for Pak Darman is accompanying Pencak Silat performances with the Tarompet.

In my last blog, I mentioned that Sundanese Pencak Silat musicians probably spend more time closely watching the movement of a performance than the audience or even the movement artists themselves. This puts Pak Darman in an interesting position. He can’t see the performances. Pak Darman is blind.

There is no question though that Pak Darman is a skilled Tarompet player and a respected Pencak Silat accompanist. During Pencak Silat Performances, Pak Darman has to respond immediately to changes in rhythm, speed and excitement. He has to match the intensity of a performance with his choice of melody, the loudness of his playing and the roughness of its delivery. In fact, his skill and knowledge of his craft is so deep that simply by listening to the improvisations played on the Kendang Anak, Pak Darman can quite often tell you who is performing Pencak Silat movements.

Continue reading “Darman’s eyes”