A spate of recent news coverage on brain fitness and "brain training" reflects a growing interest in natural, non-drug-based interventions to stay our brains clubs sharp as we age. This interest is extremely timely, given the aging population, increasing Alzheimer's rates, and soaring health care costs that place more emphasis than ever on prevention and changing lifestyle.
This past Tuesday, the MIT Club of Northern California, the American Society on Aging, and SmartSilvers sponsored an occasion on The Emerging Brain Fitness Software Market: Building Better Brains to explore the realities and myths of this growing field. Before the panel, I had the prospect to present an summary of the state of the Brain Fitness Software Market.
Why are we talking about this field at all? Well, for one, an increasing number of companies are achieving significant commercial success in packaging "brain exercise". An example is that the line of Nintendo games, like Brain Age and Brain club Training, that have shipped over 15 million units worldwide despite limited scientific support, since 2005. what's less visible is that variety of companies and scientists are partnering to bring products to plug with a more solid clinical validation. We estimate the US market was $225m in 2007 (growing from $100 in 2005). Whereas K12 Education wont to be the main segment, adult consumers are liable for most of that growth: we estimate the buyer segment grew from a couple of million in 2005 to $80 m in 2007.
Who is buying these products? Yes, of course, many adults over 50 who want to guard their memory are among the pioneers. 78 million baby boomers are wanting to try new approaches. A growing number of retirement communities and nursing homes are offering programs to their residents to expand their usual fitness and social activities. and that we can't ditch K12 education: certain brain fitness software packages have shown they will help kids who have dyslexia and related difficulties.
Is there science behind these claims? Do these products work? It depends on how we define "work". If "working" means quantifiable short-term improvements after variety of weeks of systematic "brain training" to enhance specific cognitive skills, then the solution is that variety of programs do seem to figure . If , on the opposite hand, "working" means measurable long-term benefits, like better overall brain health as we age, or lower incidence of Alzheimer's symptoms, the solution is that indirect evidence suggests they'll , but it's still too early to inform .
Are there any public policy implications? We certainly believe that there are. the middle for Disease Control recently partnered with the Alzheimer's Association to develop a comprehensive Cognitive Health road map to raised guide research efforts and improve public education on the life-style habits that each proud owner of a brain may benefit from following. Given the high rates of traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders found during a sizable amount of the lads and ladies coming home from the Iraq war, the military is investing heavily in research to assist identify problems to develop tools to unravel them, and that we expect that research will translate into wider health applications. No presidential candidate, to our knowledge, has directly addressed his or her priorities within the cognitive health realm but, given the growing importance and economic impact of brain-related disorders, we expect that to happen soon.
What are some trends that executives and investors should be watching to know this growing market? Let me make a couple of predictions:
1) An increased emphasis on Brain Maintenance, from retirement communities to gyms and health clubs. Will health clubs at some point offer brain fitness programs, and maybe "brain coaches"? we expect so.
2) Better and more widely available assessments of cognitive function will enable of all us to determine an objective baseline of how our minds are evolving, identify priorities for "workouts" and lifestyle interventions, and help us measure progress. Science-fiction? Not really. there are already pretty good tests utilized in clinical and medical environments, the challenge are going to be to refine and package those assessments during a consumer-friendly way.
3) we'll see more and better computer-based tools, each of which can be more appropriate to figure on specific priorities. even as we discover a spread of machines in health clubs today, within the future we will expect different programs tailored to coach specific cognitive skills.
4) More non-computer based tools also will provide much value. there's more and more research on how meditation and cognitive therapy, to say 2 examples, are often very effective in literally re-wiring parts of the brain.
5) Insurance Companies will introduce incentives for member who want to follow brain fitness programs. maybe even companies will offer such programs to employees to draw in and retain mature workers who want access to the simplest and therefore the latest innovations to stay their minds sharp.
Now, this being a reasonably new field, many questions remain open. for instance , how will consumers and institutions receive quality information and education to navigate through the emerging research and therefore the overwhelming number of latest programs, separating reality from hype?
In summary, what were the most take-aways from the event?
1. Research indicates that variety of cognitive abilities (attention, memory...) are often assessed and trained
2. An emerging market is beginning to develop-growing from an estimated $100m in 2005 to $225m in 2007, within the US alone-, and is poised to stay growing at significant rates.
3. Many companies are currently selling products direct to consumers (as well as through institutions) with sometimes unclear claims - this threatens to confuse consumers and present a serious obstacle to the expansion and credibility of the world .