Here is a very interesting article about Lumosity.com, one of the early players in the brain fitness program market. It is from Openeducation.net.
Brain Fitness - More Than Just for Baby Boomers
"In our last post we noted the growing body of research regarding seniors and the topic of brain fitness. We noted the words of Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine and the co-founder of SharpBrains.
Dr. Goldberg has written extensively on the topic and we noted two quotes that seemed to be particularly apropos. First, “Exercising our brains systematically is as important as exercising our bodies,” states Goldberg.
Second he offers a far more meaningful viewpoint of the need for brain fitness. Goldberg has converted the longstanding statement, “Use it or lose it,” to a more modern version of the brain fitness notion, “Use it and get more of it.”
We referenced again and again a recent NY Times piece that sought to take an in depth look at the notion. The Times indicated that baby boomers are paying attention: “boomers are seizing on a mounting body of evidence that suggests that brains contain more plasticity than previously thought, and many people are taking matters into their own hands, doing brain fitness exercises with the same intensity with which they attack a treadmill.”
At the same time we noted a certain level of skepticism that emerged as writer Katie Hafner explored the topic. She noted the concerns of baby boomers regarding memory loss and the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s but then wondered aloud if an industry was developing that was “making money on that generation’s fears.”
As the issue of brain fitness garners greater interest, this new industry that is emerging should in fact have a body of research behind it. It is imperative that serious consumers have a specific application or site they can turn to that unequivocally can deliver the goods.
One New Site Receiving a Great Deal of Interest
Today we take some time to talk with the folks at Lumosity.com, one of these new web sites devoted to the issue of brain fitness. One aspect that attracted us to the site was the following mission statement, one that appears designed to focus upon the delivery of a much needed service rather than preying on the fears of a generation.
The site stipulates: “Our mission is to create innovative neuroscience-based tools that empower people to lead better lives through better brain health and performance.” With such a mission and its research-based approach, Lomosity has caught the attention of some big time investment firms garnering $3 million of equity financing from Pequot Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), and existing investors including Michael Dearing.
“Lumos Labs is at the center of a booming interest in cognitive exercise and the emerging science about the remarkable plasticity of the brain,” said Amish Jani of Pequot Ventures. “Lumosity.com has seen tremendous demand from users and partners alike by leveraging the power of the web to deliver a unique platform for brain fitness.”
Leaving no doubt as to the need to balance business potential with the need to have a service that users can count on to deliver on the brain fitness notion, Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners offered the following assessment.
“In our analysis, Lumosity.com stood out from its competitors because of its best-in-class combination of engaging games and scientific rigor. This unique combination has led to a strong market demand for Lumosity.com’s offerings and has created a leader in the emerging market for brain fitness.”
Michael Scanlon, the Chief Scientific Officer at Lumos Labs, clearly sees the investment as a critical step in the process of creating web based applications that seek to address the issue of brain fitness.
“We’re excited to take basic neuroscience and psychology findings out of the lab and deliver them to consumers in a way that is actually improving their lives,” notes Scanlon. “This investment will enable us to significantly expand the diversity of games we offer, while further advancing the field through creative innovations and research with our academic collaborators.”
To give our readers a sense of the topic as well as the level of scientific rigor behind a new site like Lumosity, we provide a Q&A with Michael Scanlon. The Chief Scientific Officer for Lumos Labs explains the site, a bit about the current materials available and where the research is headed.
It should be noted that one key aspect of the Lumos work centers upon the notion of brain fitness and development irrespective of age group. Though there clearly is great interest in this topic as it relates to seniors, we were impressed to see that Lumos is looking at the topic at all age levels. It is our belief at OpenEducation that games and web based applications that would help develop the intellectual capabilities of school age children is as important a field to research as that of maintaining the current brain fitness levels of aging baby boomers.
How long has the site Lumosity.com been in existence? Can you give us a sense of your level of subscribers at the beginning and where those numbers are at now? And where did the name Lumosity come from?
In 2005, Dave Drescher, Kunal Sarkar, and I quit our jobs in gaming/programming, private equity, and neuroscience, respectively to start Lumos Labs (the company that created Lumosity.com). We’ve been working on Lumosity since then - primarily in development and research – and then launched the site in 2007. We’ve been a subscription service since July 2007, and are now proud to have more online users and traffic than all other similar sites combined.
“Lumos” is Latin for light, so we liked the sound of “Lumos Labs” for a science and gaming company that aims to help people “illuminate” their thinking in a fun but research-based way. “Lumosity” is a better product name (though everyone makes the “Luminosity” mistake…)
In a couple of sentences, can you give a brief explanation of your general mission and the current target audience/age demographic for the site?
“Our mission is to create innovative neuroscience-based tools that empower people to lead better lives through better brain health and performance.”
Our advisory board helps us achieve this mission. An important piece that is not reflected in the mission statement is our desire to make the user’s experience enjoyable. If we can make treadmills and dumbbells really fun, make broccoli and fish oil taste good, then everyone would be a lot healthier.
Our audience is broad, ages range from 9-90s, and our users tend to be healthy and educated. Lots of young professionals and students use the software to be able to perform better at their job or at school.
Can you talk about the specific games/activities available on your site? Are they unique, who developed them and what research/testing has been done to ascertain the impacts of each of these games on cognitive function and brain fitness?
All of the games on our site are unique and were developed by Lumos Labs. Most of them are based on tasks previously used in a research lab and demonstrated to enhance some cognitive ability. Since they undergo some change when going from lab to online game, we do our own randomized, controlled trials to measure their efficacy. Not too surprisingly, everybody improves at the games themselves. What’s more interesting is that their improvements transfer to other, non-trained tests of cognitive function such as working memory, visual attention, and executive function.
We’re also very involved in the academic research community, especially at Stanford where I went to grad school. Increasingly, the scientific validation is being done by un-affiliated researchers at these institutions, which is especially good because it removes any perceived conflict of interest.
There are many new applications of cognitive training that we’re just now beginning to explore. I think in the next few years we’ll see some really exciting new applications for this type of training, and we want to spearhead much of this exploration and research.
Your site appears to offer organized training sessions - essentially an almost course-like format. Can you talk a little bit about the organized programming versus the person who simply wants to stop by the site and take the lead themselves?
We figured some users would want the structure and guidance of the training program, and that others would want the flexibility to do whatever they want. So we provided both options. The default is the organized training program because this ensures a variety of training in different areas. The ‘Basic Training’ is 30 sessions long, and when it’s completed there is an option to enroll in a new course for memory or processing speed – more new courses are coming soon.
Are there specific advantages to your being an online program versus say a person purchasing a hand-held game or a piece of software for their own home computer?
Yes. First, we constantly update the program with new features and exercises, and respond to user feedback to improve the existing games. Because it’s web-based, everyone has the most up-to-date version. Second, game results and test data is all saved on our servers, allowing us to learn more about what works and optimize the games. Third, it can be used on different computers – at home, at work, etc. – just need to log in at the website. And fourth, doctors and teachers can monitor their patient’s/student’s progress (if the patient/student gives permission).
In one of our earlier communications you mentioned developing possible games/activities for children including those in middle school and high school. Can you talk a little bit about this aspect including future plans related to this age group (as well as any other developing materials in the works)?
I think that this sort of training/gaming can be a powerful complement to traditional classroom methods. There are several experiments underway with exciting preliminary results, but I can’t discuss in detail because the researchers want it confidential until they publish.
Some teachers are doing pilot testing in the classroom. One 6th grade math teacher just found that his students were significantly better at arithmetic after doing 30 sessions of Lumosity.
Conclusion Our site readers know first hand of our interest in video games and the possibility for such games to enhance learning. At OpenEducation.net we strongly believe that properly developed and scientifically researched video games could transform teaching and learning in the near future.
In our eyes, the Lumosity site represents an intriguing mix of potential, one that seeks to address the notion of brain fitness in seniors but is also examining the idea of brain fitness for users as young as nine. Interested readers may sign up for a 7-day free trial here. At the end of the trial, users can then sign up for either a monthly subscription ($9.95/month) or for a full year of access ($79.95).
Brain images/photos courtesy of jj_judes, sunface13, and peta-de-aztlan. 4 comments"
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