Dakim Blog

December 28, 2008

Brain Fitness needs to be Challenging

Written by: Dakim

One of the more important studies about how cognitive exercises and training pays off in terms of the ability to manage everyday tasks and basic reasoning was a 2006 study on “Long-term Effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults.” The study indicated that ten sessions of cognitive exercises designed to exercise and improve reasoning skills, memory, and mental processing speed appeared to prevent cognitive decline in middle-aged and elderly people. What’s more, the sessions’ benefits carried over into real life activities; older adults who participated in the first ten sessions of exercises followed by subsequent sessions were three times as fast in terms of ordinary tasks, like responding to a road sign, using a phone book to look up a number, or checking the ingredients on a printed medicine label, as those who only participated in the initial sessions.

But what really caught my eye was this article from the Washington Post, which makes the following observation about the study results:

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on their physical well-being, but there are no comparable efforts to keep people mentally agile and strong.

It seems only logical to exercise both the brain and the body, since the two are inter-dependent.

The article quotes Pennsylvania State University professor of human development Sherry L. Willis, primary author of the study, on the important of brain fitness training and cognitive exercises as preventive therapy:

“It’s just like physical exercise—when we are approaching the new year we will buy a pass for the gym and go fervently in January and then slack off,” Willis said. “Mental exercise is the same way. It has to be consistent, and it has to be challenging. Just like you have to keep increasing the weights at the gym to make it challenging, you have to do the same with mental activity.”

One of the things that first impressed me about Dakim’s software is that the games constantly “level” to the players’ abilities. As players improve (or decline), the games adjust in terms of difficulty; if a player is having a harder time, the games get a little bit less challenging. That’s pretty impressive; but where Dakim really stands out is that a player can be at a higher level at, for instance, language games, but perhaps a slightly lower level in short term memory, or calculation. Player’s are not just stuck at a particular level, either; the software adjusts to individual players, not to an arbitrary magic number. It’s a customized experience, every session.

Plus, Dakim’s content department is creating new games and exercises all the time, so that more content is always available; which means players don’t get bored. It’s important that the sessions are stimulating and challenging; they shouldn’t be something you have to do. Swimming laps every day in the pool is certainly good for you, but free swimming off the coast of Maui is a lot more fun and interesting, and you’re a lot more likely to swim every day. Dakim’s ocean of content is a lot more interesting than doing the same sort of cross word every morning; that variety also actually means you exercise skills you might not otherwise.

December 4, 2008

Three Aspects of Brain Fitness

Written by: Dakim

In a recent article at SeniorJournal.com, Dr. Asenath LaRue, a senior scientist and neuropsychologist at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH), says there are three primary areas, and ways to “keep fit” as we age:

1. Be Physically Active.

According to LaRue, the key is regular activity, not necessarily planned exercise. Regularly participating in activities like walking, dancing, gardening,—even house and yard work—could increase our long term brain health.

2. Challenge Your Brain.

Engage in a variety of “brain exercises.” Calculations, simple arithematic, crosswords and word-search games and puzzles. Listen actively and deliberately set out to learn; attending plays, lectures, concerts and visiting museums engage our brains. These are exactly the sorts of games, activities and “brain exercises” built into Dakim BrainFitness Systems.

3. Stay Socially Active.

LaRue suggests that people who are socially active may “hold up better cognitively than those who are less socially active.” Meet people, talk to and with them; share a skill, play a game— play a Dakim Brain Fitness session with a group of friends.

LaRue concludes that

“While we don’t know at what point in an individual’s life the three factors have maximum impact, the theory is that the better developed your coping resources, the more likely you are to withstand brain changes affecting memory and thinking.

November 25, 2008

Total Fitness

Written by: Dakim

We all know that cognitive fitness, keeping our brains sharp by keeping them working and exercised by engaging in a variety of cognitive activities, is crucial for long term brain health.

But physical activity is important for long term cognitive fitness too.  Recently my eye was caught by this paragraph in an article in the AMA’s American Medical News:

Each time a dance step is learned, for instance, new pathways are formed. “Dancing is excellent for the brain and body,” says Vincent Fortanasce, MD, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He wrote the Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription. “Not only are you moving around more, your brain is in constant motion as it recalls steps and movements.”

In other words, in the same way that new cognitive and intellectual activities—trying new kinds of puzzles, or games, for instance, will “grow” our brains, so do does physical exercise and learning new physical skills. As the AMA Medical News article puts it:

“Exercise can actually increase neurogenesis and increase the size of the hippocampus,” says Dr. Fortanasce, who promotes isometrics and weight-bearing exercise. “Exercise also increases youth hormones. And novelty, doing new things, builds branches.”

In a 2006 study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, Brandeis University researchers found that strength training increased the participants’ working memory span. The higher the level of resistance, the more memory improved, suggesting that strength training benefits not only the muscles but also the mind.

New activities, new challenges, new skills, are key for physical and mental fitness as we age.

November 13, 2008

Neuroplasticity

Written by: Dakim

It used to be, a few decades ago, that scientists thought once we reached adulthood, our brains stopped developing; we could learn, sure, but the physical structure of the brain wouldn’t change; or heal.

Now we know that even in our senior years, the brain is still growing, still forming new neurons, and making new physical connections. That ability to change, to grow, to re-route the pathways even after trauma, is called neuroplasticity.

Because of neuroplasticity, if we continue to stimulate our brains with activity of a variety of types. Mental stimulation allows us to train our brains, including our visual / spatial, auditory, and language abilities, and even our attention and the  “executive” or higher functions like planning and problem-solving.

Dakim’s games are deliberately designed around six cognitive domains, including memory (short-term and long-term), language, calculation, visuospatial-orientation and critical thinking. Sure they’re fun—and often visually stunning—but they make us think, too. And that‘s good for all of our brains.

You can read more about neuroplasticity here, and here’s a helpful glossary of terms.

November 11, 2008

Welcome!

Written by: Dakim

Welcome to Dakim, Inc.’s new blog about brain fitness, cognitive
software and Dakim BrainFitness programs.

You’ll see a number of people, from Dakim and elsewhere, posting to
this blog, but you’ll see a lot of me. I used to help make the games
that Dakim BrainFitness plays, the games that help train and exercise our
brains. I’m just as excited now, as I was when I first heard about
Dakim two years ago, because I’ve seen first hand how dementia affects
us all, whether we’re coping for ourselves or helping loved ones or
are professional care-takers.

This is an exciting year in terms of improving treatment for dementia,
traumatic brain injury, and Alzheimer’s. Dakim has been following the
latest research in cognitive fitness and incorporating techniques for
brain fitness training in Dakim’s game software. With the
recently announced plans for a Home unit, we can expect lots of
activity here, and on our new discussion boards.

Settle in your chair, and pick up a keyboard to let us know what you
think, what you’d like to know about the Dakim BrainFitness, and do go introduce
yourself in our new discussion forum.