Thursday, September 18, 2014

Game your brain: the new benefits of neuroplasticity Part two

This is the second part of last week’s article I am writing about. “On average, cognitive decline in humans starts when we’re between the ages of 20 and 30.  At the onset of this steady downfall, the brain slows down and its reliability deteriorates. Listening becomes less accurate. Peripheral vision narrows.  Attention and memory begins to falter.  To make matters worse, this gradual decline is usually accompanied by social withdrawal, egocentrism and a loss of confidence.  As Merzenich like to put it, everything is going to hell.  This problem is compounded by our laziness.  When we get older, we rest on our laurels, auto-piloting our behaviours, operating effectively throughout the day using skills that we learned when we were younger.  The problem with that approach is that our brain can be maintained only by a life of continual learning- - but, as older people effectively decide to stop challenging the brain, like an unused car, the learning machinery slowly seizes up. ‘Like every organ in our bodies, the brain undergoes changes in how it performs.  You see it in your muscles, your bones, your hair- - and you feel it in your brain,’ says Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. ‘That is not helped by people seeking comfort and a less demanding life when they are older.  The fact is that the brain is still plastic even when they are 70 or 80 years old. It can still be optimized - - but instead, many people unwittingly accelerate its deterioration.’” That is what worries me about getting older what problems will I face? Life is continuing learning about everything. One thing I have to learn is how to slow down I do all things pretty fast.  Really have to slow down on my reading.
The article goes on to say: “Gazzaley is best known for demonstrating some of the mechanisms behind cognitive decline.  He showed, for instance, that as we get older we are more susceptible to interference- - be that in the form of distractions, irrelevant information or multitasking.  The problem with older adults is that they don’t filter information, and consequently they overprocess irrelevant information that they can’t seem to ignore.  One of the consequences of interference is poor memory: it’s difficult to recall something that was never properly imprinted in the brain in the first place.  One evening in 2008, Gazzaley had a strange vivid dream about video game. In that game, the player was driving a car along a winding road in the mountains and, at random intervals, a sign would pop up on the screen.  If the sign had the right shape and colour, the player had to shoot it down while steering the car.  Gazzaley realised that he could design a video game to induce improvements in the brain.  Later that day, Gazzaley called Matt Omernick, a friend who worked at the now-defunct games company LucasArts Entertainment, and recounted his dream.  Omernick liked the idea and spoke to Eric Johnston, the legendary games developer who created the classic Monkey Island series, and Noah Falstein, who had been on of LucaArts’ first game designers and was now Google’s chief game designers. ‘I explained to them the concept and Matt drew it out,’ Gazzaley says. ‘I didn’t have any funding, but they wanted to work on it anyway.  They said to me, ‘We spent our whole careers teaching teenagers how to kill aliens.  We’re ready to use our skills to do something of impact.’”  They all made games for people now they would use their skills to help people use their brain better.  I never played games although I do know that my grandkids play them all the time.  If they can make something for people with schizophrenia to use that works that would be great.
I am going to end this second part with: “Like FastWord, Gazzaley’s game, called NeuroRacer, was designed according to the rules of how plasticity is induced in the brain.  Gazzaley’s team used an ‘adaptive staircase algorithm’ that constantly matched the difficulty of the game to the player’s skill. ‘Adaptivity is at the core of our game mechanics because that’s how you tap into plasticity,’ Gazzaley says. ‘Between 70 to 80 per cent difficulty is the sweet spot.  That’s where the player gets into a flow state and plasticity is maximal.’  When the game was completed, Gazzaley recruited 174 people, with ages ranging from 20 to 80.  In the first phase of the study, they tested the multitasking skills of their participants, confirming that older players had more multitasking deficiencies than younger ones.  They recruited 46 participants aged 60 to 85 and put them through a four week training period with NeuroRacer. ‘After training period, the multitasking skill levels of the older guys exceeded even the levels of the 20- year olds who had played the game once,’ says Gazzaley, ‘ Those levels were sustained six months later.’ Also, Gazzaley found that the older players not only improved their ability to multitask, which the game explicitly trained, but others abilities, such as working memory and sustained attention.” It is good that the older guys were able to keep the skill level that they had achieved. I know this is long and I will finish it tomorrow with the last part.  I feel this is important for all schizophrenics to learn about and maybe it can help.  That is one reason I do not want to paraphrase it.

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