by Alvaro Fernandez, founder of SharpBrains
Technology has completely changed the practice of medicine, providing incredible imaging techniques and data that now play a key role in treating injuries and illnesses. Sophisticated tools give researchers amazing new insights that advance our understanding of human anatomy, including the brain. Standard treatments for virtually every serious injury and illness have been utterly transformed over the past 50 years due to technical advances.
However, these advances have added greatly to the cost of research and treatment, and that’s particularly true when it comes to the brain. Brain imaging techniques like fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) can be prohibitively expensive, making cost a significant barrier to using the technique to conduct research and provide care on a large scale.
One solution to this challenge lies in technology that is already globally pervasive and relatively inexpensive to deploy: the Internet. Entrepreneurs are designing and implementing innovative new digital platforms that can monitor brain health and make direct contributions to improving diagnosis and treatment while expanding wellness options. For example, with current technology and existing platforms, it is possible right now to:
- Administer remote annual brain health checkups as well as cognitive screenings for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and MCI
- Gather vital data and manage concussions in athletes and others with mobile device-administered cognitive baseline tests
- Promote wellness via biometrics-aided meditation
In addition to new digital technology platforms that can expand access to health and wellness tools worldwide, the Big Data trend also comes into play: When companies reliably generate data from millions of participants, researchers and developers can spot patterns and identify insights that can enable medical professionals to develop personalized solutions. If handled correctly, the combination of digital health and wellness tools and Big Data has the potential to revolutionize and democratize brain research and treatment.
Fortunately, these exciting new possibilities are coming into focus at a time when the public seems more receptive to new ideas about brain health: A recent SharpBrains survey indicates that people are ready to be proactive about brain fitness by taking an annual assessment, even without a physician’s direct suggestion. Brain training exercises are also growing in popularity and can take a number of forms, including:
- Working memory training to maintain and improve recall and attention
- Drills that help subjects learn to ignore irrelevant stimuli and reframe negative thoughts to better manage stress and anxiety
- Spatial perception drills to improve Useful Field of View, a key predictor of driving safety
- Auditory short-term memory drills to improve performance in everyday social interactions
- Exercises to hone planning and time management skills
The brain is an incredibly complex organ, and health and wellness approaches involving the brain have historically lagged behind care involving the rest of the body. However, thanks to new technology and knowledge about brain functioning, that is changing.
We know regular exercise can improve the quality of life and increase longevity, strengthening muscles, including the heart, and other vital organs. Now innovations are making it possible to discover more about braining functioning and apply affordable treatment and fitness applications on a wider scale.
New brain health and wellness tools are being designed to help people improve mental sharpness, increase attention to detail and enhance job performance. New tools are also giving medical professionals more affordable options to diagnose and treat brain conditions.
An industry is growing around this global digital brain health market – consumers and professionals are increasingly adopting new methods and technical tools to enhance cognition and provide monitoring and treatment options, which is why the marketplace has grown from around $200 million in 2005 to just over $1 billion in 2012 Entrepreneurs and innovators are playing an indispensable role in this health and social frontier, providing the digital platforms and developing new applications to change the way we approach brain health and wellness. In this era of frequent economic and political paralysis, it’s time to celebrate that.
Alvaro Fernandez, named a Young Global Leader in 2012 by the World Economic Forum, is the CEO of SharpBrains, a leading independent market research and think tank tracking health and productivity applications of neuroscience. Fernandez is the editor-in-chief of the new market report “The Digital Brain Health Market 2012–2020: Web-based, mobile and biometrics-based technology to assess, monitor and enhance cognition and brain functioning,” and the co-author of “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness,” recognized as a “Best Book” by AARP.