Monthly Archives: September 2016

Brain Fitness In The 21st Century: 10 Priorities To Reinvent Brain Health In the Digital Age

Copyright © 2016 SharpBrains

The Times They Are a-Changin.

In a recent survey, 91% of those polled agreed with this statement: “Doctors should monitor cognitive health systematically, especially when prescribing new medicaments.”

This is important news, as anyone who has experienced negative side-effects, cognitive or otherwise, knows.

We need to upgrade our brain health system to reflect the realities, challenges and opportunities in the 21st century, in the midst of the Digital Age we live in.

Where should we start?

I recently had the opportunity to ask that question to a group of world-class scientists and technology pioneers, brainstorming around key challenges and opportunities to Reinvent Brain Health in the Digital Age. A number of highly stimulating conversations led to the following ten priorities:

1. Brain health for what: How can we better link brain health and other meaningful outcomes such as lifelong learning, workplace performance and resilience, general happiness and well-being?

2. Incorporate community into the brain health mix: What role should community and family members play, and how can technology aid their efforts; for example by providing access to medical records and easing communication with doctors and caregivers?

3. Expand monitoring of brain function: How will we effectively monitor (and self-monitor) brain function and health? Given strong agreement with “Doctors should monitor cognitive health systematically, especially when prescribing new medicaments,” what role can pharmaceutical companies and insurers play in making that happen?

4. Harness Big Data and machine learning: What role can artificial intelligence play in brain health, and how will we measure the brain health of AI-enhanced systems? How can we use AI symbiotically with the human part of the equation?

5. Accelerate scientific validation of digital medicine initiatives: What techniques and approaches, beyond randomized controlled trials, can help assess what works and what doesn’t, and accelerate the innovation process and help ensure proper adoption?

6. Mastering the digital toolkit: What are the Pros and Cons of the growing range of non-invasive neurotechnologies-cognitive training, meditation apps, virtual/ augmented reality, EEG, tDCS, ultrasound, and more.

7. Improve brain fitness literacy: How are we going to educate and empower everyone with essential knowledge and best practices, increasing the emphasis on enhancement and prevention?

8. Personalize brain health prevention and treatments: What kind of one-time or on-going brain/ mental health assessment can help pinpoint individual needs, and how can brain-computer interactions help create a bidirectional relationship between a person and the surrounding technology?

9. Invest in early brain development: How do we act on the research showing early childhood interventions improve brain health and alleviate downstream societal problems? What types of digital exposures help, and which ones hurt?

10. Engage non-medical funding sources: What is the most important (and well-funded) “low-hanging-fruit” in education, sports, the military, large corporations, where brain health innovation should be part of the solution, and how can scalable, digital tools become part of the conversation and budgets?

Asking the right questions is necessary to harness innovation the right way. What do you think of the ten priorities listed above? Would you suggest adding something else to the mix?

Alvaro Fernandez is the co-author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. SharpBrains.com is a popular blog tracking the latest brain fitness and brain health tips, and offering fun brain teasers for adults to test and improve concentration and memory.

Creating Pathways to Happiness

Like all living things, we have survival instincts.

Innately, it seems, our brain wants to hold onto negative experiences. In order to survive, we need to learn from those things that have had a negative impact and attempt not to repeat them.

This might be good for the survival of the species, yet as individuals we must not only learn, but also find a way to mentally let go of the negatives, or we won’t be able to move into a happier, more positive future.

The flip side of this is that good experiences tend to pass through our memories far too quickly — unless we are mindful of them.

Taking a moment to appreciate good things will help to cement them in our minds. This is an essential step in learning to calm your mind.

A good place to begin is to focus on the ‘small’ things that bring you happiness. We want to create a stockpile of these and the good feelings they produce, and hold them in reserve.

Perhaps your happy moments include a sunny day, a great book, or a private joke with a friend or family member.

University of California, Berkley neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson advocates the idea of replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts so that we refocus and retrain our brains. Hanson stresses the importance of being mindful of both positive and negative experiences, as both can be instructive.

His technique for changing the brain requires acknowledging — not denying or suppressing — the negative feeling, and taking time to experience the loss, the frustration, the pain.

Once the negative is fully realized and understood, which could take only a moment for small stressors or much longer for deep grief (although good therapy can accelerate this process), the next step is to find a way to minimize or let go of the negative.

Relax a little, take a deep breath, use your imagination to draw a mental circle around any harmful thoughts, as if placing them in a balloon, and then release them, letting them float off and leave. Perhaps cry a little. Tears can have a wonderful, healing, therapeutic effect, and they can be shed by the emotion of happiness as well as sadness.

After you’re able to let go of the negative, it’s time to shift your focus to something positive. Perhaps it’s a happy memory of someone you’re grieving, or remembering a frustrating project from the past that you’ve finally completed successfully.

By taking just a little step back, learning to interrupt the negative and shift the mind to something more positive, we can retrain our brains to access more happiness.

Genetics and innate impulses can be tempered with a little training and some thoughtful effort. By regularly using our mind and our brain to access more positive states, we can create fresh neural pathways and so alter the way we function and feel. To use the language of neuroscience, ‘neurons that fire together wire together.’

Our brain has an amazing capacity for learning, and it’s up to us to teach our own brain the pathways to happiness.

Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist and London and Birmingham hypnotherapist. He is a Member of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Health. For more information, please visit his Birmingham hypnotherapy website.