Friday, September 19, 2014

Game your brain: the new benefits of neuroplasticity

That is the title of this article I am writing about. “Merzenich runs Posit Science from a suite of offices in downtown San Francisco.  He has a team of 36 people, including neurologists, computer scientists and game designers. Using the same brain plasticity principles that he and Tallal used to treat children with Fast ForWord, Posit has developed an online software package called BrainHQ, a set of brain-training exercises aimed not only at treating neurological conditions, but also to arrest the normal cognitive decline that comes with age, and to improve the cognitive abilities of normal individuals. ‘I’ve looked at old brains, brains of animals we’d expected would die within months,’ Merzenich says. And you look at the various capabilities of these brains and everything that disadvantages them.  And which of these capabilities can we reverse by intensive, progressive training? All of them.  Their decline is inherently reversible.  As far as we can see, the same is true for humans.” I once used a game by Posit my old boss had us try it out.  It had a lot to do with memory and I am pretty good at that.  I have a new computer now and it is not on this one.  It does help I was better if I used it every day.
Why is this article being written because this could help schizophrenia people. “To understand how Posit Science tackles neurological diseases, let’s consider schizophrenia.  Schizophrenics typically suffer from hallucinations, delusion and disorganized reasoning.  These symptoms result from an excess dopamine and noradrenaline, the neurotransmitters that modulate the reward feedback-loop control-arousal levels in the brain.  Underlying this chemical reaction are what Merzenich calls ‘failure modes of plastic brain’: weakness in the neurological apparatus, specifically in working memory- - a cognitive skill that indicates a person’s capacity to manipulate information, such as computing sums- - and the ability to make predictions.  Antipsychotic medication, which suppresses these neurotransmitters, is effective in mitigation symptoms such as hallucinations but doesn’t fix the cognitive structure. ‘Drugs are an extremely primitive method to treat the neurology,’ Merzenich says. ‘We’re manipulating machinery that is controlled by dozens of variables, by powerfully distorting one particular chemical.  What we’re doing instead is replacing that chemical approach with strategies that actually correct the neurological underpinnings of these problems. And the only way is to have the brain correct itself.’”  The only thing I kept is my memory from before my illness. That does not mean I do not have to work on it, I do.  These programs work for a variety of things that we need as schizophrenics.
The article goes on to say: “Using BrainHQ, monitored schizophrenic patients can work on computer exercises that specifically target those cognitive weaknesses.  Two recent studies led by Sophia Vinogradov, vice chair of psychiatry at the UCSF, have shown that 50 to 80 hours of using BrainHQ significantly improved not only patients’ working memory and learning, but also their social functioning and ability to distinguish reality.  Posit Science is currently conduction studies to gain US Food and Drug Administration approval to treat schizophrenia, brain injury and stroke. “We’re transforming neuroscience-based software into medicine,’ Merzenich says.  To show how BrainHQ’s exercises work, Merzenich instructs Wired to take a 36-part cognitive assessment that lasts three hours and purports to measure everything about cognitive abilities.  ‘It allows us to tailor a programme to someone’s specific needs,’ says Merzenich.  In all, there were more than 40 exercises. One, called Hawk Eye, aims to sharpen visual perception and expand one’s field of view.  A set of identical birds flashes briefly on-screen, except for one of a different colour that needs to be identified.  A simpler exercise is Sound Sweeps, which tests auditory accuracy by requiring subjects to identify whether a sound, which might last only milliseconds, is going up or down in frequency.  Even harder is Mixed Signals, which requires subjects to watch a string of symbols, listen to a piece of information and react when they match. As new levels are unlocked, colourful fireworks explode on-screen.  The exercises in Merzenich’s brain gym are simple but strangely compelling.” I used the bird one before it is hard to get used to and find that bird that is different when it flashes.  I would like to be measured to see which I could use and find out a little more about myself.  They came along way since I used their programs.  There is so much information here that this is going to be in three parts.  I will put up part two tomorrow and finish this next week.

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