FSU institute contributes to Global Council on Brain Health recommendations

Neil Charness, FSU William G. Chase Professor of Psychology

Florida State University’s Institute for Successful Longevity was among a number of scientific sources the Global Council on Brain Health relied upon in drafting its new recommendations on enhancing brain health.

In its release of the recommendations, the council, established by AARP and the British organization Age UK, also weighed in on the question of whether brain-training games and software can lead to general improvement in cognition. In a consensus statement released by AARP, the council asserted, “There is insufficient evidence that getting better at ‘brain games’ will improve people’s overall functioning in everyday life.”

The consensus statement is consistent with findings reached by institute’s director, Neil Charness, and ISL Faculty Affiliate Walter Boot in their critical analyses of existing research.

Charness, FSU’s William G. Chase Professor of Psychology, was one of 13 scientists who formulated the recommendations for the Global Council on Brain Health.

“These recommendations can be used by individuals, caregivers and health professionals to guide their decisions on what activities and practices can enhance brain health,” Charness said.

Based on the scientific evidence, the Global Council on Brain Health concluded that:

  • People can influence how their brain changes as they age.
  • People can help maintain their memory, thinking, attention and reasoning skills as they age by doing brain-stimulating activities.
  • Training on a specific cognitive ability such as memory may improve that ability, but evidence suggests you need to continue to apply that training to maintain or improve the ability over time.
  • There is insufficient evidence that getting better at “brain games” will improve people’s overall functioning in everyday life.
  • In order to maintain or improve brain health, the activity must be novel, highly engaging, mentally challenging and enjoyable.
  • There is sufficient evidence that brain-stimulating activities are beneficial to staying mentally sharp over your lifespan.

“These recommendations are strongly supported by scientific research,” Charness said.

The council suggested an array of cognitive stimulating activities. It encouraged individuals to:

  • Find new ways to stimulate the brain and challenge the way people think.
  • Choose activities that involve both mental engagement and physical exercise.
  • Seek out mentally stimulating activities that incorporate social engagement and greater purpose, such as volunteering or mentoring.

“We want people to find activities that work for them and make those activities a part of their daily lives,” Charness said. “Brain games can be fun, and it is OK to play the games, but people need to do other activities that research shows make a difference in brain health.”

Such activities include pursuing new hobbies and developing new skills. The global council also recommended returning to activities from one’s earlier years, such as playing a musical instrument.

Physical activity is equally important, Charness said. “If people do nothing else, they should get regular aerobic exercise. It is good for the brain, as well as for general health.”

The full recommendations of the Global Council on Brain Health can be found at www.globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org.

FSU’s Institute for Successful Longevity conducts research into how to live longer, stay active and be fully engaged in life. You can learn more about the institute at www.isl.fsu.edu.