Workplace-sponsored wellness programs have long zeroed in on healthy eating, smoking cessation and physical exercise. However, organizations are beginning to recognize the importance of brain health, too. An increasing number are now incorporating what is known as “brain fitness” and “brain training” into their benefits packages as an employment perk.
A burgeoning industry that combines neuroscience research with technology, brain training uses online games, videos and interactive tools to assess and promote better memory and concentration while lowering stress levels. Proponents say these brain fitness approaches can help employees become more engaged in their work and increase productivity, too.
A survey by SharpBrains, an independent market research firm and innovation think tank which helps businesses and individuals navigate the emerging brain fitness and applied neuroscience fields, estimates that the size of the worldwide brain health and fitness software market was $295,000,000 by 2009. Interest in the technology is growing steadily with the market increasing over 30% each year.
A virtual conference sponsored by SharpBrains last summer, titled “Optimizing Health through Neuroplasticity, Innovation and Data,” attracted scientists and business leaders from throughout the country who are exploring how applications of neuroscience can be used to improve brain health in not only in the areas of education and medicine but also in the workplace. Lumosity, Cogmed, Brain Resource and game giant Nintendo are among the companies who are actively developing programs in this brain training arena.
The conference highlighted the interest in businesses building personal “brain capital” – finding ways to improve and preserve cognitive capacities and brain health in employees. Although brain fitness is seen as a beneficial concept for all ages, it may be particularly beneficial to the aging population as a growing number of Baby Boomers remain in the workforce past what has been traditionally thought of as retirement age.
As Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and the co-founder of Brainrush and Anti-AgingGames.com discussed at the recent SharpBrains conference, brain training games and other technologies may prove to be both fast tracks to learning and maintaining brain plasticity(the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections) throughout life.
Brain Fitness Science
Using technology to improve mental abilities and perhaps stave off the cognitive decline of aging is still a relatively new concept. While more research into potential benefits from brain fitness techniques is needed, several recent studies have found positive results:
- A UCLA study presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention concluded older adults who regularly used a brain fitness program played on a computer demonstrated significantly improved memory and language skills.
- New research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed mentally stimulating computer-based activities, when combined with moderate exercise, appears to decreases the risk of memory loss in elders.
- A team of Johns Hopkins and Harvard scientists recently published a study in the peer-reviews journal Plos One showing that suggests “brain fitness tools help improve language and memory and may ultimately help protect individuals from the cognitive decline.”
Brain Training in the Workplace
MyBrainSolutions, a program designed by Brain Resource, Inc., to fit easily into employees’ lives, is an example of how brain-fitness-on-the-job can work. It begins with an objective personal assessment to measure the four key areas of brain performance: emotion, thinking, feeling and self-regulation. Then participants are matched to specific brain training exercises, videos and games. In all, MyBrainSolutions offers a choice of 30 modules.
The program has a personal dashboard with trackers that allows MyBrainSolutions users to see how well they progress with stress management and how memory and focused attention improve as they use the programs. The online brain training is totally private, self-paced and can be completed in as little as 10 minutes each day.
According to Brain Resource data, regular participation in this program can help employees in these key areas:
- Improve long and short-term memory
- Develop stronger interactions with others
- Build new habits that help them perform better in daily, practical activities
In addition, studies Brain Resource used to develop the standardized methodology for the company’s online neuropsychological assessments and brain fitness games show brain training can help workers deal with job and personal stressors by focusing on the positive and by promoting resiliency.
Recently, Aetna announced it is bringing MyBrainSolutions onboard as a new wellness and behavioral health benefit to employees. “There are strong linkages between brain health and overall health and well-being,” says Louise Murphy, head of Aetna Behavioral Health. “The addition of MyBrainSolutions into our industry leading portfolio of products provides our members with a fun and engaging way to improve their health and wellness.”
Hyong Un, MD, Chief Psychiatric Officer for Aetna Behavioral Health, points to science that backs up the decision for Aetna to include brain training as a wellness benefit: “Clinical evidence clearly demonstrates the correlation between brain health and physical health,” he notes. “MyBrainSolutions unique approach uses the latest knowledge about the interconnected nature of the brain to provide integrative training that helps people regulate their emotions, thoughts and feelings.”