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Change Your Mind With Nintendo DS January 7, 2009

Posted by Dr. Rohn Kessler in 9-5-4, add parents, adhd, aging, alternative treatment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention training, brain, brain drain.
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Professor Kawashima followed his dream. When he was a boy he saw himself putting his brain on a computer system. He believed that if he could represent mental functioning on a computer, he would be able to understand how people’s brains worked. On his journey he created the Nintendo DS brain training games. These games are inter-generational tools that are entertaining to people of all ages. Dr. Kawashima studied brain response with pet scans. He found when people simply watch television, brain zones that handle sound and sight respond. When playing a video game, zones that deal with motion and color respond. The part of the brain that really helps us think is called the prefrontal cortex. It is not stimulated with either of these activities.

Difficult math does not light up this part of the brain either, but simple math done under speed conditions makes a big difference. Reading silently does not use this part of the brain as much as when we read out loud. Dr. Kawashimi developed games that stimulate the prefrontal cortex. So the principle is to work out with your brain and have fun!

He came under fire because a British newspaper quoted him as saying videogames harm the brain. This is not actually true. He said videogames de-activate the prefrontal cortex. Professor Kawashima has four children. He let them all play video games but only for one hour every day. His reasoning was that sometimes the brain just needs to rest and video games were not harmful. He has done tests on elderly Japanese people. What he found was that solving mental puzzles can often arrest cognitive decline. Dr. Kawashimi says ‘I cannot comment on whether the illness of dementia is cured or not, but with these methods symptoms of dementia certainly improve”.

Other virtual activities that were once exclusively the domain of the young are being used with increasing success to rehabilitate older adults and bring them quality of life. In some senior centers card games and crossword puzzles are being replaced with virtual reality bowling or tennis. Crossword puzzles and sudoku are played in groups with computers and a mouse. These are much easier to navigate than small pieces of wood and studies have shown that simulated activities are almost as useful for practice as the real thing.

Some other scientists are jealous and treat his work with disparaging remarks such as there has not been enough time to test this or there is little empirical evidence. Other scientists like Dr. Posner are finding exciting results after only a few sessions with brain fitness tools. Scientists are testing brain games and finding increased brain fitness from the very old to the very young. Some say Professor Kawashimi is in it for the money. This is sad as all the royalties from the games and the books he wrote about the mind go entirely to the University. Dr. Kawashimi feels as a scientist it is his obligation and the obligation of others to return the results of our research to society.

This story is adapted from an article by Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times newspaper, London UK

By Dr. Amy Price


January 14, 2009

Posted by Dr. Rohn Kessler in Uncategorized.
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Partnership…The Work of Champions

In work with children a team means everything. Your child’s self esteem and ways of relating are constructed by what they learn from team interaction. Even in graduate school students learn that the key to power for scientists is flexibility and cooperation. Many experiments show success after many well planned failures. Sometimes it takes only a new way of seeing to trigger a break through. We can mourn the past or prepare for the future, we can not do both. Often weakness in one team member will trigger unknown strength in another so it pays to obey the three fs of creativity,. Fun, flexibility and favor.

Blessed are the Flexible, for They Shall Not be Broken

One day I was trying to find a stick to roast marshmallows on. The old ones were easy to separate from the branch but were dry and brittle. The young ones did not seem that strong but they could not be broken. They were attached to the tree and gained strength and life from it. This is like your family and you. When we are attached and meet needs for each other we are strong but when we allow the stress of life to separate us from kindness and humor our loved ones draw away in pain and begin to dry from the inside out. This applies to older people too. I will use the analogy of a Christmas tree. When I was small and Christmas was over I wanted to replant the Christmas tree. My mother laughed and said it has no roots and it is already dead. I was sure she was wrong and planted it anyway! It was cold so it looked like my mother was wrong and I rejoiced, I did notice it was not growing though….when a warm spell came death became apparent. Our roots are our families and those we work with, we can choose to be roots that help them grow or just leave them planted and alone and see how they do…. It is good to remember that live trees are a source of shade and beauty, dead trees are ugly and take a lot of work.

To help you with your choice here are two stories

Many years ago there were two gifted artists. They were poor and scholarships went to the politically astute so they were on their own with talent and no money. They devised a plan. The one brother went into the mines to work and support the other while he went to graduate school. This brother, spurred on by the help of his brother graduated with honors and became widely acclaimed. He went back to his brother with joy and said “I can put you through school with class”. The other brother without bitterness lifted up his hands to show them to his brother, they were broken and crooked from years in the mines. He said “I can not go, the mines have cost me my hands” The artist did a sculpture of his brothers hands, they became his greatest work. Most of us know them as they became the image for the famous serenity prayer. In life sometimes we are the hands and at other times the artist. It is good to consider the cost to our team and provide feedback and favor before hands are destroyed.

The next story gives a vivid example of how we can color one another’s world

The Serenity Prayer

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things we cannot change,
The courage to change the things we can that,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

-Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr (1930-40)

The next story, “The Window,” gives a vivid example of how we can color one another’s world

The Window

It will take just 37 seconds to read this and change your thinking.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.
One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.
His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.
The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake.

Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man could not hear the band – he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.

She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.
He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed.

It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”


There is tremendous happiness in making others happy, despite our own situations.

Shared grief is half the sorrow, but happiness when shared, is doubled.

If you want to feel rich, think of all the things you have that money can’t buy.

Today is a gift; that’s why it is called “The Present.”

by Amy Price, PhD © 2007

January 13, 2009

Posted by Dr. Rohn Kessler in Uncategorized.
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Homework Tips, Myths and Helicopter Parents

Filed Under aging, social skills, Sparks of Genius, add parents, homework, parenting, school, parents, education, children, news (Edit Post)

I came across a new term last week — helicopter parents. It describes baby boomers that started families as thirty-somethings. They evolved a more involved parenting style, which has persisted into elementary school, high school, and even college. Bostonia, the alumni magazine of Boston University, describes this new breed of parent this way:

“…helicopter parents, moms and dads, who hover over their college-age children, chiming in on everything from housing assignments to homework.”

No, they’re not actually doing the homework for the “child,” but they’re still involved in the process.

Lately homework has become a big issue. In the past twenty years, the tendency has definitely been to pile more and more homework on younger and younger children. Alfie Kohn identifies five themes about homework complaints:
1) A burden on parents
2) Stress for children
3) Family conflict
4) Less time for other activities
5) Less interest in learning

Let’s take just one finding from the latest research:

“there is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.”

For more information, go to http://www.alfiekohn.org/books/hm.htm. or check out The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

The key is to rethink homework, says Kohn. Instead of schools and teachers automatically assigning homework on a regular basis because “it is the policy to do so,” he suggests that the regular condition should be no homework. Homework should be given only if it is beneficial to the student.

Another person re-thinking homework is Richard Lovoie, who agrees with Kohn on this point and also believes that as students move towards high school that “well planned, appropriate homework can have motivational and academic benefits.” Go to http://www.ricklavoie.com/motivationbreakthrough.html

In either case, we can now move on to a few homework tips.
1) Use trial and error to determine the best time and place for your child to do homework.
2) Prepare a homework toolbox or kit with all basic, essential tools and supplies.
3) Ask the teacher for an acceptable example of your child’s homework that has been corrected and is neat and legible. Use this as an example to show your child what to aim for. Consistency is important.
4) If your child is very disorganized, go to http://www.organizedstudent.com/ and read and implement suggestions from “The Disorganized Student.”
5) If your child is overwhelmed by too much homework, clear everything away except one assignment. When it is completed, give him another one.
6) Many parents and professionals believe that homework should be done where it is quiet, but the fact is that many students are more productive listening to music in the background – especially instrumental music.
7) If your child has attention, distractibility and impulsivity issues, read and implement strategies from “A Homework System That Works” at http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1034.html
8) If your child is very intense, sensitive and needy, go to http://difficultchild.com/ and learn how to apply the Nurtured Heart Approach to help your child.

We see a lot of students at Sparks of Genius (www.sparksofgenius.com), especially elementary school students, and I have to agree that homework is a major issue for all of them and their parents. And parents, by the way, means mothers. Right?

I know homework is an issue when the mother says “We have a lot of homework tonight.” So here’s another homework tip. When you check your child’s completed homework, look for neatness and completeness. Look over a few answers, but do not get caught up in going over every item.

Too many parents get overly involved in their elementary school student’s homework. Remember, you do not want to become a helicopter parent.

Recently I asked a mother of two, a dental hygienist, how she successfully got her son to complete his homework independently. She said “Look, I spent a lot of years teaching him how to have a positive attitude about homework, how to manage his time, how to complete his homework at the same time and place, how to use his homework toolbox, how to be organized and how to take responsibility for doing homework that is neat and complete and for handing it in.”

“When he entered seventh grade I told him he was on his own,” she continued. “What happened?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said. “He just started doing it.”

Becoming a helicopter parent is not good for your child or for you.

–Dr. Rohn Kessler

January 12, 2009

Posted by Dr. Rohn Kessler in Uncategorized.
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Adult Brain Training Software Makes the New York Times

Posted on August 30, 2007 | Filed Under neurogenesis, brain drain, attention training, add parents, neuroplasticity, alternative treatment, concentration, brain injury, brain, education, discipline, add, dementia, neuroscience, news

The New York Times noted that with companies making millions of dollars on brain-building digital toys like Baby Einstein, it was inevitable that “Grandpa Einstein” software was next.

“Calisthenics for the Older Mind, on the Home Computer” goes on to explain several new brain fitness programs aimed at aging consumers.

Article here.

How effective are these programs? The Times quotes Timothy Salthouse, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia: “The scientific evidence for those commercial products is still very weak. Manufacturers and companies have jumped into this without doing the research to prove that their products enhance cognitive function or delay mental decline.”

I agree that many companies are jumping on the brain training bandwagon before thoroughly researching the success of their programs, but there is scientific research on the effectiveness of computerized cognitive training (click here).

Even Dr. Salthouse agrees that you can teach an old brain new tricks and that “recent research in neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to information and new activities — shows that brain cells and neural pathways continue to develop throughout life.”

At Sparks of Genius (www.sparksofgenius.com) adults work with a Personal Trainer and a combination of software programs to improve memory, processing speed, listening and executive function skills. In addition, we identify, ignite and nurture the many ways they are smart – their sparks of genius.

Research shows that mentally stimulating activities – novel and complex stimuli- are health-promoting for the brain.
Unfortunately, translating this research into specific mental workouts to postpone cognitive decline may be far from easy.”

The article notes that Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist has started to use one of the new programs at the new “brain gym” at the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged.
He is offering the software “as an option to people like a couple who came to him last month, frustrated by memory problems that the wife had suffered since having surgery the previous year. A few months ago, Dr. Agronin said, he would have had nothing to offer them.

“But now I could say to the husband, ‘Take this home, put it on the computer and get your wife started,’ ” he said. “Part of having hope is having tangible therapies you can bring to people…I do want to see more data, but I’m not waiting for that.”

At Sparks of Genius we are using this new technology to help people now. It is not easy to optimize and individualize these computerized cognitive training programs, and it’s more challenging if you just buy the software and adopt a one size fits all approach. As the article states, “translating this research into specific mental workouts to postpone cognitive decline may be far from easy.”

What makes Sparks of Genius special is that we customize a brain fitness progress for each client using a combination of software products rather than one particular product. And we don’t just send people out with software. Our personal trainers monitor and fine tune their program. They motivate them and devise strategies that work.

We don’t just work on deficits. At Sparks of Genius we celebrate who our clients are, helping them to access and maximize their creative potential using the multiple intelligences.

Optimistically, the new software will keep on improving and scientific research will show us under what conditions and with what populations it is effective. In the meantime, we are using the latest in technological advances to help people now.

–Rohn Kessler, Ed. D.