In an emerging, dynamic, high growth market, like brain training, it is difficult to make precise projections. But, we can observe a number of trends that executives, consumers, public policy makers, and the media should watch closely in the coming years, as brain fitness and training becomes mainstream, new brain trainers appear, and an ecosystem grows around it.
1. We predict an increased emphasis on brain maintenance in locations ranging from retirement communities to gyms. As a computer-savvy baby boomer population looks for ways to stay mentally fit, brain fitness, or brain training, is becoming part of their vocabulary and concern.
2. Physical and mental exercise will be better integrated. Physical exercise has been shown to increase the rate of neurogenesis, whereas mental exercise helps ensure the survival of any newly created neurons. Today both activities usually take place in very different settings: the former, in health clubs, the later, in universities. We predict that the borders between them will become more diffuse. Expect new programs such as brain fitness podcasts that allow us to train working memory as we jog or exercise bikes with built-in brain games.
3. Watch for a broad government initiative, similar to the one JFK led, to increase the public awareness of the need for brain fitness. It is becoming more widely understood by the medical and policy community that a combination of physical exercise, nutrition, mental exercise and stress management can help us maintain our brain health as we age. As politicians and policy makers look for ways to delay the onset of Alzheimer-related symptoms of our aging population, new initiatives may be launched.
4. Better and more widely available assessments of cognitive function will serve as objective baselines to measure the impact of cognitive training interventions. There will also likely be better diagnostic tests to identify early Alzheimer's symptoms, for example. Reliable diagnostic assessments of cognitive abilities will help move this field forward just as jumping on a scale tells you if your physical fitness and diet program is working.
5. Improved computer-based tools will come to market. The growing pipeline of research studies will enable the market leaders and new entrants to refine existing tools and devise new ones. More clinical studies will show the benefits of brain fitness programs to address specific clinical conditions and learning disabilities.
6. Low tech options will play an increasing role in the brain fitness field. Already, increasing research is showing the cognitive value and brain plasticity impact of interventions such as meditation and cognitive therapy. More research and wider applications will help refine our understanding of when and how they can be most helpful.
7. Doctors and pharmacists will help patients navigate through the overwhelming range of available products and interpret the results of cognitive assessments. This will require significant professional development efforts, given that most doctors today were trained under a very different understanding of the brain than the one we have today.
8. Insurance companies will introduce incentives for members to encourage healthy aging. Many insurance plans today include rewards for members who, for example, voluntarily take health-related questionnaires that enable them to identify steps to take to improve health. Increasingly, brain-related lifestyle factors will become part of these incentivized interventions.
9. Investments in new cognitive interventions for the U.S. military will be commercialized. As the military increasingly funds research to improve the diagnostic and treatment of problems such as PTSD and TBI, the resulting products will ultimately find commercial uses.
10. Brain training will be added to corporate wellness and leadership initiatives. Large employers with existing corporate wellness and leadership programs will introduce brain fitness specific programs aimed not only at improved health outcomes but also at increased productivity and cognitive performance in the workplace.
Finally, here goes some food for thought: Which prediction sounds more surprising? which one would you add?
About the Author
Alvaro Fernandez is the CEO and Co-Founder of SharpBrains.com, which reviews resources for brain training and cognitive health. SharpBrains has been recognized by Scientific American Mind, Newsweek, Forbes. Alvaro holds MA in Education and MBA from Stanford University, and teaches The Science of Brain Health at UC-Berkeley Lifelong Learning Institute. You can learn more at http://www.sharpbrains.com/