Ever tried reading any of the Harry Lorrayne improving memory books?
I got into a self-improvement kick when I was in college, because there were a lot of talented folks around, and I thought that I better pick up all the tricks I could to be the best I could be.
I am not sure that I ever finished the Lorrayne materials, and I know I did not ever finish the speed reading course my father bought, so I have struggled along, though counseling education graduate school, and 12 years of mid-life career change with the all original equipment.
However, a couple of years ago, I began to notice a change in my ability to recall words.
And a year ago, I read a great book by a guy named Norman Doidge,M.D., called The Brain That Changes Itself, which indicated that there were some excellent research results about our brains neuroplasticity becoming available.
"A new study shows that computerized brain exercises can improve memory and lead to faster thinking.
Prior studies have shown that older adults perform better on cognitive tests after repeatedly practicing those tests, but this large-scale study is the first to link a commercially available software program to improvement on unaffiliated standard measures of memory and to better performance on everyday tasks.
The Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training (IMPACT) study was funded by the Posit Science Corporation, which owns the rights to the Brain Fitness Program, tested in the study.
Elizabeth Zelinski, PhD, of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and Glenn Smith, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic were principal investigators on the study, published with colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco, Stanford, and California State University, Los Angeles.
Of the 487 healthy adults over the age of 65 who participated in a randomized controlled trial, half used the Brain Fitness Program for 40 hours over the course of eight weeks. The Brain Fitness Program consists of six audio exercises done on a computer, and is intended to "retrain the brain to discriminate fine distinctions in sound, and do it in a way that keeps the user engaged," Zelinski explained.
The other half of participants spent an equal amount of time learning from educational DVDs followed by quizzes.
Those who trained on the Brain Fitness Program were twice as fast in processing information with an average improvement in response time of 131 percent. The active control group did not show statistically significant gains, the researchers found.
According to the researchers, participants who used the Brain Fitness Program also scored as well as those ten years younger, on average, on memory and attention tests for which they did not train.
Many participants also reported significant improvements in everyday cognitive activities such as remembering names or understanding conversations in noisy restaurants.
"The changes we saw in the experimental group were remarkable — and significantly larger than the gains in the control group," Zelinski said. "From a researcher's point of view, this was very impressive because people got better at the tasks trained, [and] those improvements generalized to standardized measures of memory and people noticed improvements in their lives. What this means is that cognitive decline is no longer an inevitable part of aging. Doing properly designed cognitive activities can enhance our abilities as we age."
"This study has profound personal and public implications for aging baby boomers and their parents," said Joe Coughlin, PhD, Director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute Technology. "This means boomers may now have tools for a future that is not their grandfather's old age. It also impacts most aspects of independent living – from aging-in-place to transportation to all the great and little things that we call life. This is big news for aging and for all of us."
The multi-site IMPACT study is the largest study ever of a commercially available brain-training program."-
After reading Doidge's book, and really being intrigued by his blend of reporting the science and his enthusiasm, I looked around for other information about what is generically called "brain fitness" these days, and found some great stuff.
There are some folks who have been working in this field for decades, for example Alex Doman and his family at Advanced Brain Technologies, and I also came across Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, which is another computerized brain fitness program, based on the research of Martin Bueschkall, Ph.D., and Susan Jaeggie,Ph.D.
Lumosity is another computerized brain fitness program.
So I bought the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and signed up for Lumosity, which is an online subscription program, and began a self-experiment.
The Posit Science program has done wonders for my word recall, as it promised, and the Mind Sparke made an immediate difference in my attention to task, and Lumosity, since it is easy to get to on my computer, provides a quick and powerful brain brightener for me, if I do not have time to spend on a full hour long Posit Science session or a 20 minute Mind Sparke session.
Subsequent to discovering the Doidge book, and Sharon Begley's work, I discovered Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. which is a compendium of brain fitness hints culled from the neuroscientific research and put into e-book or hard cover form which helps us to find things we can do ourselves to keep our brains healthy.
Evans and Burghardt speak to the pillars of brain fitness. The most important pillar for brain fitness (which is where your memory is) is physical activity/exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences like computerized brain fitness programs, which must offer two things, increasing levels of challenge and the appropriate opportunity for a successful response. That is where the computerized programs excel.
That's right, you can work your brain out like your bicep.
Those brain fitness tips all work in the improving memory aspect of brain activity.
Evans and Burghardt talk about the Jaeggi and Bueschkall reseach, which has been commercially adapted in the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro program.
I like the fact that I see other professionals commenting on research like the IMPACT study, and the PNAS work of Bueschkall and Jaeggie.
To a clinician who uses research but does not do it, that kind of discussion sounds like corroboration to me, which makes me feel a little safer.
However, my personal experience has been helpful, and I am looking forward to new developments in the research and in the marketplace which will help me stay alive and vibrant while my kids grow up.
Here are links to the programs that I have used, and found helpful.