3 min read

Retrain the Brain

Retrain the Brain

Our brains are amazing, all the more so because they can invent tools and practices to modify themselves. We could all use a little retraining…or maybe a lot.

When I get that feeling, I need VR healing

Some cool neurotech: Illusory ownership of a VR body improved gait and balance in patients with chronic motor deficits. It's like a jump start to trick the cortex into recovery. Could there be a role here for paired tACS in SMA and anterior parietal?

Using Body Ownership to Modulate the Motor System in Stroke Patients

Unless you join Spinal Tap

A group of autistic kids “received individual drum” lessons twice a week for 8 weeks. Compared with matched kids without the lessons, “improvements in drumming performance were associated with a significant reduction in hyperactivity and inattention difficulties”.

The effect of learning to drum on behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents

The drumming lessons “increased functional connectivity in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”, regions associated with “inhibitory control, action outcomes monitoring, and self-regulation”.

My one big regret for this study is that the control group did not seem to have a comparable learning intervention, such as learning a skill that doesn’t involve rhythmic behavior or adaptive inhibitory control. Still, I’m intrigued.

Use it or lose it

I’m often asked about how to prevent cognitive decline in aging, and one of my go-to recommendations is learning a second language later in life. New research supports the “important role” later life bilingualism plays “in mitigating cognitive decline”.

Add Bilingualism to the Mix: L2 Proficiency Modulates the Effect of Cognitive Reserve Proxies on Executive Performance in Healthy Aging

Even controlling for traditional measures of “cognitive reserve”, such as “occupational complexity”, “socio-economic status”, and “educational attainment”, age of 2nd language acquisition and proficiency” helps grow cognitive “reserves and integrity”.

For similar reasons, learning to play musical instruments and learning to code later in life also likely bolster cognitive reserves and slow decline. “Use it or lose it” is just the start; keep learning new things to use!


In a meta-analysis, “gifted” individuals show no personality differences with everyone else in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, or neuroticism. The one big difference is that gifted people rate substantially higher in “Openness to Experience”.

Personality differences in gifted versus non-gifted individuals: A three-level meta-analysis: High Ability Studies

In other words: go out and explore.

Leisure Depth

Among “146,651 participants from the UK Biobank who were 60 years or older”, “watching TV was associated with increased risk of…dementia” while “using a computer was associated with decreased risk”. Play deep, not shallow!

Leisure-time sedentary behaviors are differentially associated with all-cause dementia regardless of engagement in physical activity

Gamma Power Memory

If I could record activity inside your brain, I could tell you which experiences you might accurately remember later.

The hippocampus as the switchboard between perception and memory

Specifically, during a recall task “a sustained increase in hippocampal high gamma power (55 to 110 Hz) emerged 500 ms after cue onset and distinguished successful vs. unsuccessful recall.”

In fact, we can even watch as “the recall signal progresses from hippocampus to posterior parietal cortex and then to medial prefrontal cortex.”

But why just watch it happen. By directly stimulating Gamma activity, we can actually improve both long-term memory and working memory in older adults.

Long-lasting, dissociable improvements in working memory and long-term memory in older adults with repetitive neuromodulation

A recent study using a protocol of “transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)”, at alpha frequencies in the Parietal lobe “improved working memory”, while Gamma stimulation in Frontal regions “improved long-term memory…1 month after intervention.”

At one of my startups, Optoceutics, we’re working to push this a big step forward, by using Gamma-tuned light stimulation to achieve the same results.

Just reading a book by this very fancy light we invented might soon improve our long-term cognitive health.

(I sure hope so, I’ve been using it every day.)

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Happy new year from Team Socos!