Working Your Brain To The Limit

After Brain Injuries, Troops Hit The Mental Gym
May 12, 2011

Working Your Brain To The Limit
The brain fitness programs are a lot like physical rehabilitation, says Katherine Sullivan, a speech pathologist who directs the Brain Fitness Center. The idea is to work your brain to the limit, she says.
“Just like going to a gym, you could stay here for 30 minutes and not really get a great workout,” she says. “But sometimes if you push yourself to that threshold that’s ideal and optimal for training, you’re going to see more benefit.”

But scientists caution that brain training remains experimental.

“These training programs are a work in progress,” says Michael Merzenich, a professor emeritus and neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. Merzenich is also a co-founder of Posit Science, a company that makes one of the brain training programs used at Walter Reed and other military and veterans hospitals.

Merzenich says he is confident that brain training, like physical training, is doing something.
“That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be in the tip-top shape they were in before they went over to Afghanistan,” he says. “But most of these people can be substantially better.”
However, the effectiveness of most brain training programs hasn’t been tested scientifically on normal brains, let alone injured ones, Merzenich says.
There are studies under way at Walter Reed and other institutions. The goal is to find out just how much difference a particular program makes and how it compares with other programs, Merzenich says.

“You don’t just evaluate whether or not they improve in the specific task you’re training them on,” Merzenich says. “Of course they improve at those.
The question is whether they improve in their general abilities that reflect their capacities, their operational abilities in everyday life. Because if you don’t improve that, you’ve done nothing useful.”

related link:


Think Faster, Focus Better and Remember More

Think faster, focus better and remember more — Rewiring our brain to stay younger and smarter
Google Tech Talks. June 16, 2008
Dr. Michael M. Merzenich

Professor, University of California at San Francisco June 16, 2008

Neuroplasticity, memory … and human (your) potential

brain plasticity

< 27: we can reverse …

28: every time you specialize …

31:19 Learning problems can be effectively overcome in most children by intensive training that targets brain processing accuracy & speed: THE KEY NEUROLOGICAL SKILLS THAT SUPPORT FACILE LANGUAGE AND READING.

32:45 There is (of course) great variation in the richness of environments, and in the consequent elaboration of the brain machinery of individual children (and adults). Too much is credited to (blamed on) genetics.

A_30_million_word_gap_200833:16 The great disparities in language exposure (of course) powerfully influence a child’s school-house performance in the language and reading (A 30 million word gap). Hart and Risley, 1995.

33:50 differences in the nature of the interactions between the child and the adult: approbations: affirmatives (2:1 vs 1:6)
affirmative: Stop that shit, Billy! Don’t do that, Billy!
approbation: Way to go, Mary! Nice job, Mary!

35:55 going forward, when children enter high school, we know that children from these 2 great divisions in society are going to be about 5 years separated in their reading ability

36:40 Limitations can be overcome in most children, by intensive training that corrects their neurology

Exercises are “game-like” (engaging, fun, rewarding)

37:55 Proficiency in reading: taking the child to 70 percentile (so, 70% of children in American schools aren’t proficient)

Age-related_cognitive_decline_200844:47 Age-related cognitive decline–A pervasive feature of aging Effect of age on various aspects of mental function:
– Vocabulary
– Reasoning
– Spatial visualization
– Episodic memory
– Perceptual speed
[Adapted from Salthouse et al.]

Begins in the 20’s and 30’s; continues throughout life

People in their 70’s are in the bottom 20% relative to people in their 20’s

45:56 Why do we “lose it”, as we growth older? 1. Your brain is older and “noisier” … 3. You rely too much on abstraction …

Auditory_speed_of_processing_200851:02 Old brains slow down. Changes in auditory processing speed vs. age, in the “normal” population.

Auditory speed of processing

brain_adjustment_of_sampling_rate_200851:41 Consequences of your brain making a necessary downward adjustment of its “sampling rate”:
1. Error-prone (“sparse”) signal reception
2. Noise-sensitive signal recognition
3. Degraded syntactic (predictive) control
4. Widespread memory (cognitive) deficits
5. Reduced processing efficiency
6. Lower learning rates

training_generalizes_to_memory_and_everyday_cognition_200852:51 OUTCOME (Mayo Clinic: USC RCT ITT Trial) BFP results:
1. Training improves directly trained tasks
2. Which generalize to untrained measures of memory
3. Which generalize to everyday cognition function & Quality of life

52:55 What is the magnitude of this improvement? Cognitive ability in older individuals by this training takes about 40 hours. Translates to improvement of your overall cognitive performance by about 11 years.

Ball et. al., JAMA (2002)

Willis et. al. JAMA (2006)

Wolinsky et. al., Journal of Gerontology (2006a, b)

Edwards et. al., Gerontology (2002)

Edwards et. al. Aging & Mental Health (2005)

Renker et. al. Human Factors (2003)

brain fitness in adult life

For more information:

learn a foreign language

1:10:00 deep thinking

intensive, progressive, directed training

1:19:30 It’s all abstraction; there’s nothing real about the activities in your brain, in the sense it’s all symbolic

1:21:00 brain fitness

The only way you actually change your brain is when it’s serious to the brain itself. … It has to really matter to the brain. … focus of your attention … you would interpret under which motivation …

as long as you work on the cutting edge, as long as it matters …


Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: A randomized, controlled study
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006 Aug 15;103(33):12523-8.
Henry W. Mahncke, … and Michael M. Merzenich

How To Lean In Without Burning Out: Vanessa Loder
December 11, 2013
guided visualization

Optimal sleep time is 7 – 8 hours

Online games offer trove of brain data
21 June 2013

Study of 35 million users of brain-training software finds alcohol and sleep linked to cognitive performance.

brain-training games

online ‘brain-training’ tools

The study, published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, analysed user data from Lumosity, a collection of web-based games made by Lumos Labs, based in San Francisco, California.

The optimal sleep time was seven hours, with performance worsening for every hour of sleep lost or added.

‘crystallized knowledge’ (such as vocabulary)

fluid intelligence’ (such as the ability to memorize new sets of information)

the sample in this study is also biased: the users of brain-training tools are younger (compared to the typical dementia patients), most of them live in the United States or Europe and, most importantly, they are likely to already be interested in cognitive-training tasks.

brain-training techniques

factors that influence cognition

Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, says Harvard Medical School’s Charles Czeisler, who is chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation.
Any less than that (if it happens regularly) is a “sleep deficiency,”

more on fluid thinking:
This is flexible, fluid thinking — children exploring an unlikely hypothesis.
Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik.
Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working.
That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one,” says Gopnik.

And that flexibility may disappear earlier than we think.
Gopnik’s lab has also compared toddlers and kindergartners


Dreams and Reality
Why Sleep Matters
October 29, 2015

Five Tips for Women Who Have Trouble Sleeping
By Jill Suttie
August 2019