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Does growing up poor harm brain development? (The Economist):

“Plenty of evidence suggests that growing up poor, living through these kinds of scrapes, has a detrimental impact on child development. Children from rich families tend to have better language and memory skills than those from poor families. More affluent children usually perform better in school, and are less likely to end up in jail. Growing up poor risks the development of a smaller cerebral cortex. But these are associations between poverty and development, not evidence that poverty causes these bad outcomes, says Kimberly Noble, a neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York. She is part of a team of researchers running a three-year experiment which will, for the first time, search for causal links between parental income level and a child’s early development.

The team will start recruiting the first of 1,000 low-income mothers next week. They will be invited to join the study, which is called Baby’s First Years, shortly after giving birth at one of ten hospitals in four cities across the United States…Of that 1,000, roughly half will be randomly selected to receive an unconditional $333 a month, while the others will form a control group that will receive $20. The money, which is completely unconditional, will be loaded onto a pre-paid debit card every month for 40 months, on the date of the child’s birthday. The hypothesis is that this steady stream of payments will make a positive difference in the cognitive and emotional development of the children whose mothers receive it…The interviews will also measure mothers’ stress, mental health and employment patterns.”

Recent related study:

Socioeconomic Status, Amygdala Volume, and Internalizing Symptoms in Children and Adolescents (Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology)

  • Abstract: The associations among socioeconomic disadvantage, amygdala volume, and internalizing symptoms in children and adolescents are unclear and understudied in the extant literature. In this study, we examined associations between socioeconomic status (SES) and amygdala volume by age across childhood and adolescence to test whether socioeconomic disadvantage would be associated with larger amygdala volume at younger ages but with smaller amygdala volume at older ages. We then examined whether SES and amygdala volume were associated with children’s levels of anxiety and depression. Participants were 3- to 21-year-olds from the Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition, and Genetics study (N = 1,196), which included structural magnetic resonance imaging. A subsample (n = 327; 7–21 years of age) completed self-report measures of anxiety and depression. Lower family income and parental education were significantly associated with smaller amygdala volume in adolescence (13–21 years) but not significantly associated with amygdala volume at younger ages (3–12 years). Lower parental education, but not family income, was significantly associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, even after accounting for family history of anxiety/depression. Smaller amygdala volume was significantly associated with higher levels of depression, even after accounting for parental education and family history of anxiety/depression. These findings suggest that associations between SES and amygdala structure may vary by age. In addition, smaller amygdala volume may be linked with an increased risk for depression in children and adolescents.
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Tema: Cómo preparar la mente de nuestros alumnos para el siglo XXI…comenzando por el cerebro de sus profesores y padres

Descripción: Conferencia de Álvaro Fernández Ibáñez, basada en el libro Cómo invertir en su cerebro: Una guía SharpBrains para mejorar su mente y su vida, dentro del ciclo “Neurociencia y Educación” patrocinado por Ikasgiltza, la asociación de cooperativas laicas de enseñanza en el País Vasco.

Sobre el ponente: Experto a nivel internacional citado por medios como el New York Times o el Wall Street Journal, Álvaro Fernández Ibáñez casi 20 años en Estados Unidos. Hace diez lanzó junto con el científico Elkhonon Golberg la empresa SharpBrains para dar seguimiento a la ciencia del cerebro y a las nuevas tendencias tecnológicas e intentar ver cómo se pueden aplicar en la mejora de la educación, la salud y la mente.

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Why technology — not medication — is the future of treating older adults with depression (McKnight’s Long-term Care News):

“The go-to treatment for many cases of depression is medication.

Unfortunately, this treatment option can cause as many issues as the problem it is trying to solve. Antidepressants can put residents at greater risk of falls, negative health complications and other poor conditions. Some studies indicate that antidepressants may not be effective for most older Americans.

Medication adherence is another significant challenge. According to a study by Topolovec-Vranic, et al., “individuals with depression are … three times less compliant in the adherence to medical regimens in chronic illness compared to those without depression” …

These days, many long-term care communities are utilizing engagement technology as a more creative and connected approach to caring for residents with depression, especially those with memory loss or cognitive decline…Computers, tablets or smartboards with touchscreen versatility and adaptive devices for individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. These devices are loaded with picture-based interfaces to launch senior-friendly applications with continually updated content for brain fitness, education, virtual travel, spirituality, music, games, trivia, exercise and specialized dementia programming. They offer family communication tools including webcams for video chat and user-friendly email.

A study in the Journals of Gerontology found that Internet use among retired older adults reduces the probability of depression by 33 percent. Other studies found that engaging with computer technology can be playing certain computer games as just as effective — if not more — reducing symptoms of depression as antidepressants. Executive function — those mental skills required for planning and organizing behavior — also improved.”

StudyFighting Isolation With Technology (LeadingAge)

  • Summary: It’s well documented that social isolation can lead to depression, decreased quality of life and other related issues for older adults. Today’s ever-more-sophisticated communications technologies can go a long way toward alleviating isolation and boosting well-being.
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Social-emotional learning (SEL) teaches the key attitudes and skills necessary for understanding and managing emotions, listening, feeling and showing empathy for others, and making thoughtful, responsible decisions. For five years, I was an educator in the field teaching mindfulness and emotional skills to teenagers at six different high schools.

Over and over, I saw the power of mindfulness to transform the inner lives of students. Students became less stressed, more self-regulated, and more thoughtful toward their classmates. But I also saw that students did not understand how to connect these new skills and experiences to build purpose-driven projects in their real lives. There was a gap between the inner development and the real-world implementation.

That is where purpose-based education comes in. Purpose, as defined by Bill Damon of Stanford University, is “something that is meaningful to the self, and consequential to the world.” This new movement of purpose-based learning organizations is connecting the principles and practices of SEL to what students do in the world and to the question, “What do I do with my life?” It’s developing the connective tissue between internal skills and external projects, future plans, and big life decisions.

Over the past five years, half a dozen organizations have popped up around the country focused on developing purpose among high school students, including the Future Project, the QUESTions Project, NxU, Noble Impact, and Project Wayfinder (the organization I founded). This new movement in education can have a lasting impact, as long as it evolves in the right direction.

Here are a few suggestions—based on discussions with educators and leaders of purpose-based organizations—for educators seeking to develop more meaning and purpose in the lives of their students, and for those who want to take SEL and mindfulness to the next level.

1. Make it applicable to real life

Students need to feel and understand that mindfulness and SEL skills will actually be applicable outside the classroom, to things that happen in their real lives—in areas like applying to college, thinking about their future, getting a summer job, or dealing with family matters at home.

For example, imagine a teenager is working on a project they really care about and a big piece of it falls through unexpectedly. Then, a teacher gives them a lesson on dealing with adversity and different strategies to bounce back from it. The student does the lesson with a real-life example in mind and then can apply it more readily.

The Purpose Compass, an activity we developed at Project Wayfinder, asks students to find the intersection of three components: what they love to do, a need in the world, and a skill they have or want to develop. This connects a student’s self-awareness (knowing what they love to do) with external life skills, thus bridging the gap between the internal and external. Through this activity, a number of real-life student projects have been born, like a student-designed T-shirt company to support social justice causes.

2. Integrate SEL classes throughout school

One way to show how SEL lessons apply to real life is to connect them to other subjects in school. Research shows that for SEL programs to succeed in high schools, the biggest school-wide shift they need to make is to become well-integrated into other subject matters—rather than being a standalone “feelings class” (as one of my students called it) awkwardly sandwiched between chemistry and AP history.

There are creative ways to integrate purpose learning throughout classes. At Project Wayfinder, we’ve found that our curriculum fits best in advisory, a kind of homeroom-plus that many high schools have once or twice a week that focuses on personal development, life skills, and connecting with teachers.

Schools have found a number of other ways to integrate our curriculum—for example, in a combined math/English seminar or a project-based science class. One teacher in Hawaii used our tools and exercises to kick off his “Finding Poetry” course. Students are guided to do inner discovery work, which then jumpstarts the creative process for poetry.

If you want to integrate SEL or purpose learning, first take an inventory of your existing lessons and look for implicit social, emotional, and moral components. SEL and purpose skills could also be helpful in the learning process itself—as students try to persevere, work together, and stay motivated.

3. Bring student voices into the curricula

Students live in a digital world where there are literally millions of well-designed things available in the palm of their hand. This makes design even more crucial for engaging students, especially in a non-required or non-graded course. Curricula need to be more than well-designed; they must be varied, fun, and multimedia. They must feel different from your average class.

How do you design a lesson that’s fun for students? The best way to do this is to ask them what would be engaging and then test it. For example, the QUESTions project took three years to develop its curriculum with student input the whole way.

For teachers in the classroom, you can work with students to decide on ground rules for their lessons. Instead of having rules imposed on them, they can be involved in decisions about the layout of the classroom, how you use the class period together, and how much they are teaching each other or leading the class.

We rarely ask students to participate like this or give feedback on a curriculum, and even less often change the curriculum based on their feedback. At Project Wayfinder, we tested every piece of the curriculum multiple times with a variety of student groups and are making substantial changes next year based on their feedback. This way, the content becomes even better and more targeted over time.

4. Cultural competency

Research shows that students of color in particular do not take SEL lessons home. Being mindful of cultural differences and building more culturally responsive curricula will help SEL lessons be relevant to more students.

In U.S. K-12 education, students of color make up half the student body, but 80 percent of teachers are white. At Project Wayfinder, we place a heavy emphasis on recruiting diverse guides to help co-create our curriculum with different student populations in mind, as do many of the other purpose development organizations. The Future Project, for example, places “Dream Directors“ directly into schools, the majority of whom are people of color. These Dream Directors play the role of mentor and coach—working with students on purposeful projects and personal development, while simultaneously trying to build a supportive school culture.

Since developing a sense of purpose is so tied to one’s identity, it is crucial to have teachers, mentors, and guides that young people identify with in their purpose journey. It’s also crucial to be more attuned to cultural differences in values and emotional expression. Rather than assuming that all students have a homogenous experience with concepts like gratitude or conflict resolution, for example, we can invite discussion about these differences.

5. The role of the teacher

For SEL and purpose-based curricula to be effective, teachers need to be able to embody what they are teaching—to be self-aware, emotionally intelligent, and deeply connected with their own sense of purpose.

“Establishing a culture of psychological safety in the classroom starts with the teacher,” says J. Eric Wilson, CEO of Arkansas-based Noble Impact. “You’re asking students to take a risk by opening up in front of their peers. Establishing trust between the teacher and students is a prerequisite for everything we do.”

For example, teachers must be willing to be vulnerable with students. They must act more like a coach or mentor as opposed to a content-delivery agent.

A simple exercise is simply to spend time explaining why you are a teacher. Why do you choose to teach every day and care about your students? In a Project Wayfinder activity called The Journey Track, teachers share their own personal life journey to teaching. Many teachers have said this helps students connect with them more deeply and see them more as a whole person, not just a teacher.

6. Teacher training

For SEL and purpose development programs, teacher training and development is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. At Project Wayfinder, we require that every teacher who uses our curriculum is trained by us, either at one of our summer institutes or at an on-site training. We have found that teachers who do not get trained by us feel less confident and struggle more in teaching our curriculum. The training is more than a how-to—it is a deep dive into their own sense of purpose and how best to relate to their students.

One of the things we and other organizations are continuing to explore is what kind of ongoing and increased support teachers need as they continue down the path of purpose education. For example, Mindful Schools developed a specific year-long certification program to help train cohorts of teachers to continue to develop their skills.

For teachers that come from underfunded schools, many of these programs (including ours) offer scholarships, and there are an increasing number of online tools for teachers to use for professional development.

Teachers and educators are thirsty for an answer to students’ feelings of boredom and the need for hoop jumping. They want something fresh, relevant, challenging, and inspiring for their students. Purpose education has the potential to fill that role—and to move students into the 21st century with the skills, mindsets, and practices they need to thrive in an increasingly unpredictable world.

– Patrick Cook-Deegan is the founder and director of Project Wayfinder. He was a 2015–2016 education innovation fellow at Stanford’s d.school, graduate of Brown University, and former Fulbright Scholar. Based at UC-Berkeley, Greater Good highlights ground breaking scientific research into the roots of compassion and altruism. Copyright Greater Good.

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Given the limitations of existing evidence-based ADHD treatments, i.e., stimulant medication and behavior therapy — research on novel intervention approaches continues to be important.

Cognitive training is one such approach that has been suggested as a potential adjunct or even replacement for medication treatment. While cognitive training takes different forms, e.g., computerized attention training, working memory training, the basic idea is that by repeatedly practicing cognitive tasks related to attention, one’s ability to focus and attend will improve. In other words, attention will improve with practice, just as many other skills do. In my view, the evidence supporting this hypothesis is limited in that although gains are generally found on tasks similar to those used in training, generalization of gains to real-world tasks where sustaining attention is important, e.g., while reading, doing homework, etc., have been more difficult to document.

In recent years, virtual reality (VR) has been introduced as a treatment for several psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety disorders; positive findings have been reported. In VR treatment for anxiety disorders, the client is ‘exposed’ to sources of anxiety in the virtual environment, allowing for gradual exposure in a controlled setting. For example, in the treatment of PTSD, VR allows a person to experience the trauma scenario again in a safe, controlled way through the use of interactive computer-generated environments that can be modified to resemble the traumatizing event. Using VR for ADHD has never been tested, however. A recent study thus represents an initial effort to examine this approach.

The New Study

In this study, Virtual Remediation Versus Methylphenidate to Improve Distractibility in Children With ADHD: A Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial Study, 51 7- to 11-year old children diagnosed with ADHD were randomly assigned to a virtual reality intervention, medication treatment, or supportive psychotherapy. Before and after treatment, which lasted 6 weeks, ADHD symptoms were assessed via a parent rating scale, a computerized attention test, and a virtual classroom assessment task.

In the latter, participants wore VR headsets that placed them ‘inside’ a virtual classroom. A virtual ‘teacher’ instructed them to view a series of letters on a blackboard and to click the mouse when a particular combination of letters appeared on the board. To make the task more difficult, multiple distractors, e.g., pencils dropping, paper airplane flying across the class, etc., were presented during the task. Correct responses were defined by clicking the mouse after the designated letters appeared; clicking to any other combination of letters were considered errors.

Treatment lasted 6 weeks. Children in the medication group were treated with a long acting form of methylphenidate with dose titrated every 2 weeks based on a parent interview. The psychotherapy condition was primarily focused on providing emotional support and addressing the impact of ADHD on children’s everyday lives; it was included primarily to control for therapist attention.

In the Virtual Reality condition, children wore VR headsets that simulated a regular classroom. During 12 30-minute training sessions, children performed a letter detection task (details not provided) while inhibiting attention to various classroom distractions. As training progressed, the distractors increased to make the task more difficult. You may note that the training task sounds very similar to the assessment task described above; from the description provided in the paper, it is not evident how they differed.

Results 

On the virtual classroom assessment, youth who completed cognitive training in the VR environment showed improved performance that exceeded students in the psychotherapy condition and that matched that found for students receiving medication. Furthermore, they actually made significantly fewer errors than students in the medication group (it was not clear, however, whether students were on medication at the second assessment).

When it came to parent ratings of ADHD symptoms, however, there was no evidence that the VR training had any positive impact. In contrast, as has been demonstrated in numerous studies, youth treated with medication had significant and substantial reductions in both inattentive and hyperactive symptoms.

Summary and Implications

This study is an interesting initial effort to examine VR in the treatment of ADHD. However, although the VR intervention showed positive effects on the VR assessment task, this is not surprising given how similar the assessment was to the actual intervention. Because of this similarity, it is not clear that the VR component was essential as practicing a similar computer-based task outside of the VR environment could have yielded similar results. In that regard, a stronger control would have been a computer-based attention training task that did not include VR. Another limitation, as noted above, is that the VR intervention had no discernible impact on parents’ behavior ratings.

While the results of this study are limited, they highlight some important principles in evaluating novel ADHD treatments. For example, when training studies report treatment effects, it is not uncommon to find that benefits were obtained on some particular measure. In the study above, the positive impact on performance in the VR assessment could be highlighted.

It is important, however, to ask whether the outcome affected is a meaningful one. Most professionals and parents would be more interested in how a treatment impacts core ADHD symptoms than on how it may affect performance on a specific lab-based test. Thus, in my opinion, the failure to observe reductions in parents’ reports of ADHD symptoms substantially undermines the value of the intervention tested here.

Another issue to consider is how closely the measures used to evaluate an intervention’s impact match the intervention itself. In this study, the VR assessment measure was highly similar to what occurred in the VR training; this alone could explain why children got better on the task. Ideally, the intervention effects should generalize to ‘real world’ tasks and/or settings that are differ from the training itself.

For example, while it is nice to show that a computer-based attention training intervention leads to better scores on a computerized attention measure, it is more important to document that attention also improves in settings that really matter, e.g., while the child is doing homework or in the classroom.

In conclusion, while I commend the authors for this initial effort to examine the use of VR in ADHD treatment, there is much work remaining to establish whether this a viable approach. Taking a cue from the VR treatments developed for anxiety disorders, where VR is used to expose clients to ‘environments’ that elicit anxiety, it may be fruitful to use a virtual classroom environment to train attention during more meaningful academic tasks. For example, it may be possible to combine neurofeedback with a virtual classroom to provide feedback to children on their attention level as the ‘teacher’ presents an actual lesson.

This seems as though it could be an interesting approach to try.

– Dr. David Rabiner is a child clinical psychologist and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He publishes the Attention Research Update, an online newsletter that helps parents, professionals, and educators keep up with the latest research on ADHD.

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How do genetics impact early intervention for dementia? (Medical News Bulletin):

“Cardiovascular and neurological diseases, such as dementia, have been linked to dysfunction of a variation of the apolipoprotein E, or APOE, gene, called the APOE e4 allele…The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) evaluated whether the effectiveness of lifestyle modifications for those at risk of Alzheimer’s disease would be different for those with or without the APOE e4 gene. This was a clinical trial including 60 to 77-year-old individuals from the general population in Finland who were at-risk for cardiovascular diseases and dementia…

The intervention group was provided with specialized cognitive training, diet, exercise, and vascular management, whereas the control group received regular health advice only…The researchers performed genomic DNA tests from blood samples to identify the presence of APOE ?4 and neuropsychological tests to determine cognition outcomes of all participants over the course of 24 months.

The results showed that cognition levels improved for those who participated in the intervention groups. The lifestyle interventions proved effective for those with and without the APOE e4 gene. These results indicate that even those with a genetic predisposition for dementia can benefit from targeted lifestyle modifications. In fact, those who with the genetic susceptibility may have received additional benefits, however, further research will be needed to confirm these results. These findings emphasize the importance of early active interventions.”

The Study

Effect of the Apolipoprotein E Genotype on Cognitive Change During a Multidomain Lifestyle Intervention: A Subgroup Analysis of a Randomized Clinical Trial (JAMA Neurology). From the abstract:

  • OBJECTIVE: To examine whether the APOE e4 allele modifies the previously reported significant cognitive benefits of a multidomain lifestyle intervention (prespecified subgroup analysis).
  • DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) was a randomized clinical trial in 6 centers across Finland (screening and randomization performed from September 7, 2009, through November 24, 2011; intervention duration, 2 years). Data analysis was performed from August 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016. The study population was at-risk older individuals from the general population. Inclusion criteria were age of 60 to 77 years; Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia risk score of at least 6 points; and cognition at a mean level or slightly lower than expected for age. Individuals with dementia or substantial cognitive impairment and conditions that prevented cooperation or safe engagement in the intervention were excluded. APOE genotype data were available for 1175 of the 1260 participants.
  • INTERVENTIONS: Participants were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to a multidomain intervention group (diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk management) or a control group (general health advice). Group allocation was not actively disclosed to participants, and outcome assessors were masked to group allocation.
  • MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Primary outcome was change in cognition measured through a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery. Analysis was based on modified intention to treat (participants with at least 1 post baseline assessment).
  • RESULTS: A total of 1109 participants were included in the analysis: 362 APOE e4 allele carriers (173 intervention and 189 control) and 747 noncarriers (380 intervention and 367 control). The APOE e4 carriers and noncarriers were not significantly different at baseline (except for serum cholesterol level)…Intervention effect was not significantly different between carriers and noncarriers.
  • CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Healthy lifestyle changes may be beneficial for cognition in older at-risk individuals even in the presence of APOE-related genetic susceptibility to dementia. Whether such benefits are more pronounced in APOE e4 carriers compared with noncarriers should be further investigated. The findings also emphasize the importance of early prevention strategies that target multiple modifiable risk factors simultaneously.
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Tech Watches You for Digital Symptoms of Brain Disorders (IEEE Spectrum):

The medical professionals tasked with caring for our minds don’t have an easy job. To diagnose people with neuropsychiatric diseases, doctors can perform brain scans, but such scans are expensive and the results are sometimes inscrutable. The other options include conducting time-­consuming cognitive tests, or relying on doctors’ own subjective analyses.

Seeing an opportunity, a number of startups have devised quantitative methods to diagnose diseases or assess mental health while patients complete routine activities, like talking on a smartphone, typing on a keyboard, or scrolling through a website. Here are three companies that say they can lift the “fingerprints” of mental disorders from people’s mundane behaviors.

to get a good update on Mindstrong Health, NeuraMetrix and WinterLight Labs.

News in Context: Overview of the brain & mental health innovation landscape:

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Heads-up: the 2018 Horasis Global Meeting will host a session on How Innovation Leads to New Healthcare Realities, and our very own Alvaro Fernandez will discuss the latest in neurotechnology, brain & mental health and also set the stage for the upcoming launch of the Portuguese editionof The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age (also available in Spanish, Japanese and Polish).

Description: Innovation in health-care is advancing globally, offering transformative change. In an aging society we might consider better palliative care most important – but are there other areas that offer better prospects?  How may our planet and we become more resilient?

When: May 8th, 08.00–09.30

Overall agenda: Horasis will convene the 2018 Horasis Global Meeting in Cascais, Portugal over 5–8 May. The annual Horasis Global Meeting is one of the world’s foremost gatherings of business leaders who interact with key government officials and eminent thought leaders. The Horasis community of more than 400 selected world leaders from 70 countries will gather for an unparalleled experience advancing solutions to the most critical challenges facing corporations and societies today. As in 2017, the Horasis Global Meeting is held in partnership with the City of Cascais and the Portuguese Government.

Bio: Alvaro Fernandez, named a Young Global Leader, runs SharpBrains, an independent market research firm tracking applied neuroscience. He has been quoted by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Reuters, and Associated Press, among others, and is the Editor-in-chief of seminal market reports on Pervasive Neurotechnology and Digital Brain Health, and co-author of the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. Alvaro enjoys serving in the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Human Enhancement, and in the Global Teacher Prize Academy run by the Varkey Foundation, and holds an MBA and MA in Education from Stanford University and a BA in Economics from Universidad de Deusto, in his native Spain.

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Music Activates Regions of the Brain Spared by Alzheimer’s Disease (University of Utah):

“Ever get chills listening to a particularly moving piece of music? You can thank the salience network of the brain for that emotional joint. Surprisingly, this region also remains an island of remembrance that is spared from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of Utah Health are looking to this region of the brain to develop music-based treatments to help alleviate anxiety in patients with dementia. Their research will appear in the April online issue of The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease

For three weeks, the researchers helped participants select meaningful songs and trained the patient and caregiver on how to use a portable media player loaded with the self-selected collection of music.

“When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive,” said Jace King, a graduate student in the Brain Network Lab and first author on the paper. “Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.”

The shaded areas were activated by familiar music.

Using a functional MRI, the researchers scanned the patients to image the regions of the brain that lit up when they listened to 20-second clips of music versus silence. The researchers played eight clips of music from the patient’s music collection, eight clips of the same music played in reverse and eight blocks of silence. The researchers compared the images from each scan.

The researchers found that music activates the brain, causing whole regions to communicate. By listening to the personal soundtrack, the visual network, the salience network, the executive network and the cerebellar and corticocerebellar network pairs all showed significantly higher functional connectivity.

“This is objective evidence from brain imaging that shows personally meaningful music is an alternative route for communicating with patients who have Alzheimer’s disease,” said Norman Foster, M.D., Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Care at U of U Health and senior author on the paper. Language and visual memory pathways are damaged early as the disease progresses, but personalized music programs can activate the brain, especially for patients who are losing contact with their environment.”

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Brain-Zapping Workout Tech Is Coming to an Equinox Near You (Gizmodo):

“Athletes are generally willing to entertain any scientific-sounding trend that promises an edge. For reference: Michael Phelps and cupping or Shaquille O’Neal’s energy-enhancing bracelets.

Which is probably why Equinox jumped at the chance to offer Halo Neuroscience’s brain-zapping, supposedly performance-enhancing headsets as part of its advanced personal training program at 22 of its fitness clubs around the U.S., beginning this month.

Halo’s headsets employ a technology called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. The idea is to apply a mild electrical current to the brain, resulting, in this case, in improvements in an athlete’s physical prowess…Now, with the Equinox partnership, Halo is bringing its $749 brain-zapping headset to the masses…While many studies do support the idea that tCDS can have genuine effects on the brain, the science is still divided on whether Halo’s product could really work the way the company claims…

A review of research on tDCS and exercise performance from last year, for example, looked at 12 studies on endurance and found that only eight had positive results. Among the studies that monitored people while they were actually exercising, those results were even lower…But even if it does work to improve athletic performance—which it very well might—there are still a whole lot of questions to answer. For how long will the effects last? Does it work better for some kinds of sports than others? Is it as effective as other performance-enhancing methods, like say, simply changing up practice routines or diet?”

The Review Study:

The Ergogenic Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Exercise Performance (Frontiers in Physiology). From the abstract:

  • The physical limits of the human performance have been the object of study for a considerable time. Most of the research has focused on the locomotor muscles, lungs, and heart. As a consequence, much of the contemporary literature has ignored the importance of the brain in the regulation of exercise performance. With the introduction and development of new non-invasive devices, the knowledge regarding the behavior of the central nervous system during exercise has advanced…there has been emerging literature demonstrating the possibility to influence exercise outcomes in healthy people following stimulation of specific brain areas. Specifically, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been recently used prior to exercise in order to improve exercise performance under a wide range of exercise types. In this review article, we discuss the evidence provided from experimental studies involving tDCS. The aim of this review is to provide a critical analysis of the experimental studies investigating the application of tDCS prior to exercise and how it influences brain function and performance. Finally, we provide a critical opinion of the usage of tDCS for exercise enhancement. This will consequently progress the current knowledge base regarding the effect of tDCS on exercise and provides both a methodological and theoretical foundation on which future research can be based.
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