Why should you engage in computerized cognitive fitness?
In the not-to-distant-past we assumed that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but scientific research on brain function has shown this to be untrue. In fact, brain training as we age is rapidly becoming the new norm among not only the baby boomer generation- but their parents and grandparents! Why should elementary school children and rocket scientists be the only ones solving challenging problems every day? We now have the technology to provide everyone with effective ways to challenge themselves and keep their brains fully fit. At the Brain Emporium, we provide the means to help people keep brain fit.
How do we keep our brains fit?
In order to improve brain fitness, we must engage in a variety of unique and novel challenges. Our brain ‘strength’ can increase when we take on challenging tasks. Many of us face challenging tasks every day in solving problems at work, taking care of our children, and simply navigating through the many hurdles life may throw at us. However, most of us do not challenge ourselves outside of the areas that we are comfortable with. In order to keep our brains fit, we must challenge ourselves in new ways. Two of the most effective ways to build and maintain brain strength are learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument. What do these have in common? They each involve learning new rules, being exposed to new ideas, and performing through speaking or playing, in order to put that new learning into practice. We cannot all learn new languages or musical instruments, but we can challenge ourselves by seeking out games that teach us new rules and show us new ideas. At the Brain Emporium, our goal is to provide our users with a variety of unique and novel challenges every day!
The Science Behind Brain Training
The research examining brain training remains in its early stages and is presently the topic of great debate. It has been established that computerized cognitive fitness programs can improve users memory, attention, and visual field (). But the true goal of cognitive training is to allow improve real-world tasks such as driving, regulating finances, managing medication intake and maintaining social interaction. But the two biggest questions are 1) Does the training generalize to real life situations, and 2) Do the effects of training last? The most recent research into the area suggests that some training does generalize and some training does last after the games are no longer used (). The question then becomes, “what types of training best generalizes and lasts?”
Dementia refers to the decline and eventual loss of cognitive function. Disrupted functions can include problems with long and short term memory, difficulty maintaining attention, and failure to think logically and plan for the future. The most common dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but dementia can also result from strokes, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis or conditions such as alcoholism and HIV. The types of cognitive impairment may differ based on the original condition, but most dementias will cause similar impairment once the patient is beyond the mild stage.
Doctors and dementia researchers commonly divide dementia into three distinct stages; Mild, Moderate and Severe. Each stage is associated with a different level of function and differing abilities in carrying out normal daily activities. To determine the level of severity in dementia doctors use neurocognitive evaluations, dementia scales and also interview the patients and their family members. The three levels of severity are described below.
Mild dementia: The person remains capable of performing most activities of daily living and continues to live independently. It is common for people in this stage to misplace familiar objects, begin to have difficultly following complex directions, and show impairment in social functioning.
Moderate dementia: In this stage, memory loss has become so severe that the person can no longer live independently. Only a small amount of routine behaviors remain. The individual will experience difficulty in retaining new information, as well as in remembering personal history such as the names (or faces) of loved ones.
Severe dementia: In the severe stage, virtually no new information is retained and nearly all previous knowledge has been forgotten. The AD patient commonly fails to recognize even close family members, becomes easily confused, and must be cared for 24 hours a day for their own safety.
Impact of Dementia on Families: Due to the inevitable and often times slow progression of dementia, the process of dealing with the disease greatly impacts the patient and their family. The vast majority of dementia caregiving is conducted by family members, and family relationships are commonly disrupted as the disease progresses. Beyond the major tasks of assisting with dressing, cooking, paying bills and buying groceries, family caregivers also experience stress for other reasons. For spousal caregivers, issues may include grief over the loss of previously enjoyed joint activities or stress related to taking on unfamiliar tasks that the patient is no longer able to complete. Child and grandchild caregivers may experience stress related to the role reversal common to caring for a loved one who previously cared for you. The progression of the disease itself also causes increased stress, as patients must rely more and more heavily on caregivers to assist them with basic life tasks. This increased reliance often disrupts the life of the caregiver in unexpected and unpredictable ways. For most families, placement of their loved one into a nursing home becomes the best way to provide 24 hour care for the AD patient. However, even placement is associated with a number of stresses. For example, sometimes the chosen facility is a great distance from where the caregiving family lives and visitation becomes difficult. For others, worries about the care of the AD patient within the facility replace the previous worries associated with caregiving at home.
Cognitive Reserve: Best described as your brain’s resilience, cognitive reserve allows you to lessen the negative impact of attacks on the brain from the process of aging, trauma or disease. Those with higher cognitive reserve are more easily able to maximize cognitive efficiency when the brain becomes impaired. While educational attainment and cognition associated with career are strongly linked with higher cognitive reserve, there is evidence that it can be strengthened in almost anyone. Learning new things teaches the brain to adjust in order to cope with the challenges inherent in the new learning situation. Therefore, learning a new skill, such as to speak a new language or to play an instrument, can stimulate brain function and build cognitive reserve.
Neuroplasticity or Brain Plasticity: Until recently, it was thought that the ability to reshape our brain’s communication and information systems, our neuronal pathways, was extremely limited as we aged. However, we now know that our ability to ‘rewire’ our own brain remains intact throughout our lifespan. That rewiring, known as neuroplasticity, allows us to function more effectively after the brain becomes impaired due to aging, disease, or trauma.
Neurogenesis: This refers to the creation of new neurons within the brain. Like neuroplasticity, it was previously believed that our ability to generate new neurons slowed greatly with age. In fact, we can continue to grow new neurons throughout our lifespan if we continue to challenge ourselves by learning new things.
Memory: We are our memories. Our memories contain our history
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: