Posts Tagged brain training
In a world in which our brains are almost constantly overstimulated, many of us may find it challenging to stay focused for extended periods. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have now developed an app that trains the mind to maintain concentration.
Many, if not most, of us spend our days rapidly switching between competing tasks. We call this “multitasking,” and take pride in how efficient we are in dealing with multiple problems at the same time.
However, multitasking requires that we quickly redirect our focus from one activity to another and then back again, which, in time, can have a detrimental effect on our ability to concentrate.
“We’ve all experienced coming home from work feeling that we’ve been busy all day but unsure what we actually did,” says Prof. Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
“Most of us spend our time answering emails, looking at text messages, searching social media, trying to multitask. But, instead of getting a lot done, we sometimes struggle to complete even a single task and fail to achieve our goal for the day,” she adds, noting that we may even find it difficult to stay focused on pleasant, relaxing activities, such as watching TV.
Yet, she continues, “For complex tasks, we need to get in the ‘flow’ and stay focused.” So, how can we re-teach our minds to stay focused?
Prof. Sahakian and colleagues believe that they may have found an effective and uncomplicated solution to this problem.
The research team has developed a brain training app called “Decoder,” which can help users improve their concentration, memory, and numerical skills.
The scientists have recently conducted a study to test the effectiveness of their new app, and they now report their results in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
An app that improves concentration
In the study, Prof. Sahakian and team worked with a cohort of 75 young and healthy adult participants. The trial spanned 4 weeks, and all the participants took a special test measuring their concentration skills at both the beginning and the end of the study.
As part of the trial, the researchers divided the participants into three groups. They asked one group to play the new Decoder training game, while the second group had to play Bingo, and the third group received no game to play.
Those in the first two groups played their respective games during eight 1-hour sessions over the 4 weeks, and they did so under the researchers’ supervision.
At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that the participants who had played Decoder demonstrated better attention skills than both the participants who had played Bingo and those who had played no game at all.
The researchers state that these improvements were “significant” and comparable to the effects of medication that doctors prescribe for the treatment of attention-impairing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
App could help with ADHD
In the next step of the trial, Prof. Sahakian and team wanted to test whether Decoder could boost concentration without negatively affecting a person’s ability to shift their attention effectively from one task to another.
To do so, they asked participants who had used Decoder and Bingo to take the Trail Making Test (TMT), which assesses individuals’ attention-shifting capacity. The researchers found that Decoder players performed better on the TMT than Bingo players.
Finally, participants who played Decoder reported higher rates of enjoyment while participating in this activity, as well as stronger motivation and better alertness throughout all their sessions.
“Many people tell me that they have trouble focusing their attention. Decoder should help them improve their ability to do this,” says Prof. Sahakian.
“In addition to healthy people, we hope that the game will be beneficial for patients who have impairments in attention, including those with ADHD or traumatic brain injury. We plan to start a study with traumatic brain injury patients this year,” the researcher also notes.
An ‘evidence-based game’
Cambridge Enterprise recently licensed the new game to app developer Peak, who specialize in the release of brain training apps. Peak have adapted Decoder for the iPad platform, and the game is now available from the App Store as part of the Peak Brain Training package.
George Savulich, another of the current study’s authors, notes that, unlike other apps that claim to train the brain but do not necessarily deliver on their promise, he and his colleagues based the development of Decoder on hard scientific evidence.
“Many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Our evidence-based game is developed interactively […]. The level of difficulty is matched to the individual player, and participants enjoy the challenge of the cognitive training.”
“Peak’s version of Decoder is even more challenging than our original test game, so it will allow players to continue to gain even larger benefits in performance over time,” Prof. Sahakian adds.
“By licensing our game, we hope it can reach a wide audience who are able to benefit by improving their attention,” she says.
Brain training devised by a Brighton clinical researcher can cut the number and frequency of epileptic seizures in patients who have not responded to drug treatment.
Details of the groundbreaking research have been published in The Lancet and Cell Press journal Ebiomedicine.
One in 100 people suffer with epilepsy – 50 million people worldwide – with about 30 per cent of them apparently unable to benefit from drugs to manage the condition.
About half of those taking part in clinical trials reported that the technique reduced seizures by 50 per cent or more.
It was invented by Yoko Nagai, Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, run jointly by Brighton University and Sussex University.
The technique is seen as an alternative to medication by teaching patients to train their brains to be more alert.
Previous mental techniques have been aimed at relaxing the brain to reduce seizures but Dr Nagai’s research found the opposite was true – that training patients to increase their levels of alertness helped them to become better at calming their brain and reducing seizures.
Volunteers used an animated computer programme that responds to a person’s level of alertness.
They were shown how to increase their alertness by learning to move a computer-generated animated figure towards a desired goal.
The method relies on “lie detector” technology, with sensors attached to patients’ fingers.
Patients focus on the computer figure and the sensors pick up brain and body activity including emotional distress and alteration in the sweat glands and these, in turn, signal the figure to move.
The technique teaches patients to acquire a sense of control by concentrating on the screen activity.
In a previous randomised controlled trial with 18 patients, 60 per cent of drug resistant patients demonstrated more than 50 per cent seizure reduction after a month of therapy.
And two who went on to keep a record for three years after their “training” continued to have a greatly reduced number of seizures with learnt techniques.
For the current trials, 40 patients with drug-resistant temporal lobe epilepsy, aged 18 to 70, were recruited for a controlled trial from three screening centres.
Some 45 per cent of patients demonstrated a reduction in seizures of 50 per cent or more.
Dr Nagai said: “Our clinical study provides evidence for autonomic biofeedback therapy as an effective and potent behavioural intervention for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.
“This approach is non-pharmacological, non-invasive and seemingly side-effect free.”
She now hopes further collaborations may lead to a simple online digital computer programme being developed for patients to use anytime and anywhere in the world.
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, so let me share these 20 Must-Know Facts to Harness Neuroplasticity & Improve Brain Health that come from the hundreds of scientific and medical studies we analyzed to prepare the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Improve Brain Health and Performance at Any Age:
- There is more than one “It” in “Use It or Lose It” — our performance depends on a variety of brain functions and cognitive skills, not just one (be it “attention” or “memory” or any other).
- Genes do not determine the fate of our brains. Thanks to lifelong neuroplasticity, our lifestyles are as important as our genes-if not more- in how our brains grow and our minds evolve.
- We need to pay more attention to Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to verify whether any intervention causes an effect, and under what specific circumstances.
- The largest recent RCT (the ongoing FINGER study) and a 2010 systematic review of all relevant RCTs provide useful guidance: First, they report a protective effect of social and cognitive engagement, physical exercise, and the Mediterranean diet. Second, the average benefits at the population level appear quite limited, so we need to have realistic expectations.
- Physical exercise and increased fitness promote brain functioning through a variety of mechanisms, including increased brain volume, blood supply and growth hormone levels.
- Cardiovascular exercise that gets the heart beating – from walking to skiing, tennis and basketball – seems to bring the greatest brain benefits; thirty to sixty minutes per day, three days a week, seems to be the best regimen.
- Mental stimulation strengthens the connections between neurons (synapses), improving neuron survival and cognitive functioning. Mental stimulation also helps build cognitive reserve, helping the brain better cope with potential AD pathology.
- Routine activities do not challenge the brain. Keeping up the challenge requires going to the next level of difficulty, or trying something new.
- The only leisure activity that has been associated with reduced cognitive function is watching television.
- Brain training can work, putting the “cells that fire together wire together” to good use, but available RCTs suggest some key conditions must be met to transfer to real-life benefits.
- The brain needs a lot of energy: It extracts approximately 50% of the oxygen and 10% of the glucose from arterial blood.
- The Mediterranean Diet, supplemented with olive oil and nuts, is associated with decreased risk of cognitive decline.
- Moderate doses of caffeine increase alertness but there is no clear sustained lifetime health benefit (or harm).
- Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption seems to lower the risk of dementia.
- Taking “brain supplements” of any kind does not seem to boost cognitive function or reduce risks of cognitive decline or dementia, unless directed to address an identified deficiency.
- The larger and the more complex a person’s social network is, the bigger the amygdala (which plays a major role in our behavior and motivation). There is no clear evidence to date on whether “online” relationships are fundamentally different from “offline” ones in this regard.
- Chronic stress reduces and can even inhibit neurogenesis. Memory and general mental flexibility are impaired by chronic stress.
- There is increasing evidence that meditation and biofeedback can successfully teach users to self-regulate physiological stress responses.
- We will not have a Magic Pill or General Solution to solve all our cognitive challenges any time soon, so a holistic multi-pronged approach is recommended, centered around nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise.
- Having said that, no size fits all, so it’s critical to understand and address individual needs, priorities and starting points.
Now, remember that what counts in terms of brain health is not reading this article, or any other, but practicing some healthy behaviors every day until small steps become internalized habits.
Revisit the fact above that really grabbed your attention…and make a decision to try something new this summer.
More than 20 percent of Americans regularly consume prescribed drugs related to mental health issues, earning contemporary America the nickname, “the Prozac Generation.” However, developing safe, targeted, and effective drugs for mental illnesses has increasingly become a struggle for the pharmaceutical industry.
As a result, there’s been a gradual withdrawal of research dollars from this area, despite the fact that globally, the mental health pharmaceutical market is worth more than $80 billion.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), more than 57 million people, or 26 percent of the U.S. population suffer from some form of mental health problem. But despite the ongoing need, one can legitimately claim that research has not produced a novel neurological drug in the past 30 years. Additionally, many drugs currently on the market have been increasingly identified with negative side effects and limited efficacy.
Until recently, most mood disorders were attributed to an imbalance in a single neurochemical, such as serotonin. Increasingly, scientists have come to acknowledge that this is an oversimplification that can lead to counterproductive treatment.
Due to the complexity of brain networks, these pharmaceutical compounds may work to alleviate some symptoms, but they may exacerbate others. They may even contribute to new problems, such as cognitive impairment, suicide, or diabetes. Because the diagnosis of many conditions is a highly subjective process based on patient self-reporting, identifying the appropriate course of treatment is frequently an exercise in trial and error.
High cost, negative press, and the lack of an efficacy model have resulted in the drying up of the drug pipeline for pharmaceutical treatment of mental illness.
Are we moving into a post-pharmaceutical age in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric illness? If the flurry of wearable sensors, brain-computer interfaces, and non-invasive brain stimulation research are any measure, then the answer is “yes.”
Brain training can be used to treat problems related to cognition, behavior, and emotion. (Image Source: Evoke Neuroscience)
New technology and an increased focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have led to a greater understanding of the complexity of the brain. Instead of focusing on single chemical neurotransmitters affecting cognition and behavior, mental health research has evolved to address neurological “functions” through models of neural circuits known as “neural networks.”
Continue –> Brain Training And The End Of The Prozac Generation.
Can we create engaging training programs that improve working memory (WM) skills? While there are numerous procedures that attempt to do so, there is a great deal of controversy regarding their efficacy. Nonetheless, recent meta-analytic evidence shows consistent improvements across studies on lab-based tasks generalizing beyond the specific training effects (Au et al., 2014; Karbach & Verhaeghen, 2014), however, there is little research into how WM training aids participants in their daily life. Here we propose that incorporating design principles from the fields of Perceptual
Learning and Computer Science might augment the efficacy of WM training, and ultimately lead to greater learning and transfer. In particular, the field of perceptual learning has identified numerous mechanisms (including attention, reinforcement, multisensory facilitation and multi-stimulus training) that promote brain plasticity. Also, computer science has made great progress in the scientific approach to game design that can be used to create engaging environments for learning.
We suggest that approaches integrating knowledge across these fields may lead to a more effective WM interventions and better reflect real world conditions…