Monday, March 31, 2008

State of the brain fitness software revolution

Brain fitness. Clearly a hot buzz phrase the past few years. What does it mean? What is happening? Where is it headed? Should I purchase some of the advertised software/technology to keep my mind fresh and protected from the influence of aging? Curious minds want to know...and Sharp Brains has provided the most comprehensive synthesis of the brain fitness software field to date.

As mentioned previously, Sharp Brains recently published "State of the Brain Fitness Software Market 2008." Before proceeding I need to mention that, IMHO, the Sharp Brains organization is the leading critical voice in the field of brain fitness. I've often called them the Ralph Nader of brain fitness. Thus, I believe their first "state of the market" report should receive serious attention by anyone interested in this emerging field. It is my understanding that a similar hardware report is in development. I can't wait!

It is not possible to summarize the information packed 87-paged report in a blog post, so I'll only provide a few tidbits.

First, as stated at the Sharp Brain web page:
  • The report tracks developments at over 20 public and private companies offering tools to assess and train brain functions and provides important industry data, insights and analysis to help investors, executives, entrepreneurs, and policy makers navigate the opportunities and risks of this rapidly growing market. The report discusses the implications of cognitive science on healthy aging and a number of disorders such as attention deficits, dyslexia, stroke and traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia, autism, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease. The report also provides information and frameworks to help institutional buyers make informed purchase decisions about brain fitness programs.
A few (select) highlights:
  • Revenues for the US brain fitness software market was estimated to reach $225 million in revenues in 2007...reflecting a large increase from $100 million in 2005. Clearly the brain fitness movement has reached and passed the tipping point.
  • Considerable confusion exists in the market. Many products and claims proliferate, but, according to Sharp Brains, only five programs have demonstrated positive cognitive effects in tightly controlled research studies (e.g., studies that use randomized controlled trials). Readers are encouraged to visit the Sharp Brains web page and blog for objective evaluations of new and emerging brain fitness product claims.
  • The consumer brain fitness market showed significant gains from 2005 to 2007 (from a few million in 2005 to $80 million). Consumers should expect an increasing array of products directly targeted at the end-user consumer. Expect a number of new software and technology start up companies to join the bandwagon this year.
  • Nintendo's Brain Age and training games are credited as being one of the major forces in the increased interest in brain fitness.
  • There are four primary customer segments: consumers, healthcare & insurance providers, K12 school systems, and fortune 1000 companies, military,and sports teams.
  • Does any of this glitzy stuff work? It depends. As is the case with most cognitive or educational interventions, short-term (proximal) improvement (measured in weeks) is often demonstrated. However, the evidence for long-term (distal) improvement and maintenance is minimal to none, and consists largely of circumstantial evidence. Long-term improvement due to cognitive-based interventions has been one of the more elusive searches for the holy grail in the area of intelligence.
I could go on, and on, and on. If you are interested in capturing an accurate picture of the state of the brain software research and market there is only one option...purchase their report. The report is organized into seven chapters:
  • Why now? Market Overview
  • The Science of Brain Fitness: Neuroplasticity, Neurogenisis and the Cognitive Reserve
  • Consumers--Taking Charge of Their Brain Health
  • Healthcare and Insurance Providers--Focus on Preventive Health
  • K12 School Systems--Responding to Learning Disabilities in New Ways
  • Fortune 1000 Companies, Military and Sports Teams--Improving Productivity
  • Future Directions: Market trends 2007-20015.
Other brain-related blogs have commented on this report. For example, check out the Brain Injury News and Information Blog.

Finally, given that I'm an educational psychologist who has consulted on a research project (using randomized control and treatment groups) that demonstrated short-term (proximal) positive academic effects for the Interactive Metronome technology (click here for more information and here for conflict of interest disclosure), I was most interested in the conclusion that the K-12 educational market "remains largely untapped due to limited research linking cognitive training to academic performance." I hope this changes. I predict that there will be increased interest in the application of brain fitness software and hardware in the K-12 school-age market, most likely driven first by parents purchasing products in hopes of improving the educational performance of their children.

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