Mind gyms for cognitive fitness

At last week's Institute for the Future client conference, I conducted an on-stage interview with Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder of SharpBrains.com. Alvaro's company creates custom "mind gym" programs for corporations, athletic teams, children, and the elderly, and tracks scientific advances related to cognitive fitness. At the foundation of the SharpBrains programs and other mental fitness companies' offerings is the recent scientific evidence of neuropolasticity, the brain's ability to grow new brain cells and form new connections throughout life. The SharpBrains "fitness regimes" consist of various software games designed, say, to improve memory or improve concentration. Do they work? Alvaro is convinced. And besides, he jokes, if someone doesn't see improvement, he just tells them that "they're already at their peak." (He kids! He kids!) Today's Los Angeles Times profiles the emerging industry of brain training. From the article:

"There is plausibility, both biological and behavioral, to the claim that these may work," says Molly Wagster, chief of the National Institute on Aging's neuropsychology branch. "But it is still a situation of 'buyer beware.' "

Insurance companies such as Humana and Penn Treaty American Corp. have begun to distribute software programs such as Posit Science's Brain Fitness 2.0 to millions of their older customers. In two years on the market, Nintendo's Brain Age, a video game designed to be played on a hand-held game device, has sold 10 million copies worldwide. Retirement communities are rushing to establish brain gyms to help current residents sharpen their mental skills and to attract baby boomers, who may one day put such amenities on a par with a weight room and a track.

"I see this as a new frontier of fitness overall," says Alvaro Fernandez, founder and chief executive of the website SharpBrains .com, which tracks the business and science of brain-training. Americans already understand the value of physical fitness as a means of preserving the body's proper function and preventing age-related diseases, says Fernandez.

He predicts that cognitive fitness will become a goal to which Americans equally aspire as we learn more about aging and the brain.

Link to Los Angeles Times article, Link to Alvaro's SharpBrains blog