October 20, 2020
Motherhood Moment
Bekah Jorgensen

Things have been very different for many of us since March. Extra time at home and activities being cancelled can put a strain on mental health, and it can also impact not just our emotions, but our mental stimulation. Cognitive training app BrainHQ from Posit Science has been clinically proven in over 100 peer-reviewed studies to improve attention, decision-making, brain speed, memory, intelligence, and even people skills. BrainHQ has also been linked to improved cognitive measures and lowered dementia risk in pre-dementia patients.

I had a chance to try out a subscription of BrainHQ. It is pretty unique. It’s really easy to use, and really easy to track progress. The games sound incredibly simple, but they’re fun – the graphics are engaging, and even though the basic tasks sound simple, they are challenging in a very positive way. It’s easy to pick a focus for brain-based training, and it’s fun to see progress over time. Even if it’s hard to figure out a way to measure progress outside of the app (I have no idea if I really have better decision-making skills after just a few weeks), it certainly feels good to get better at the games included.

I had a chance to interview Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science and a lead developer of BrainHQ, to learn more.

Why was BrainHQ created?

I got my PhD in Neuroscience at UCSF in the lab that discovered that the brain remains “plastic” – capable of chemical, structural, and functional change – throughout life.  Scientists used to believe the brain was only plastic during childhood, and then, like a computer, it was hard-wired (with fixed capabilities) and was just destined to wear out over time.

Through the efforts of people in that UCSF lab (and their colleagues around the world) thousands of experiments have been run – first in animals and then humans – that show that every brain is capable of improving and getting healthier if trained in a progressively challenging manner designed to activate the brain systems that govern plasticity.

Five years after I left academia for industry, my PhD advisor called me and said that we had helped enough rats and monkey and it was time to help people. He was forming a company to bring plasticity-based brain training to market and asked me to join him. Our mission is to get the latest in neuroplasticity training out of the labs and into the hands of people it can help.

How can it be beneficial to people right now?

A global effort involving more than 400 university-based researchers has resulted in the dozens of brain exercises found in BrainHQ.  There are more than 100 studies published validating these BrainHQ exercises across all kinds of people. Those studies show that people don’t just get better at the exercises  – they get better in standard measures of cognition (memory, attention, processing speed, decision-making, social cognition), in standard measures of quality of life (mood, confidence, anxiety/stress/fatigue, health-related quality of life), and in standard measures of real-world activities (balance, gait, driving, listening, work). That’s because having a faster and more accurate brain affects so much of what your do.

What are some other ways to boost brain function?

Your brain is healthier and performs better when you regularly engage in new and challenging activities. Learning new skills is attentionally-demanding, rewarding and filled with novelty. That makes your brain more plastic and also healthier, at both a systems and cellular level.  So, take up activities that are intensive, repetitive, and progressively challenging. Learn  a new language, take up a new sport or new musical instrument, take dance lessons or yoga or tai chi classes, and focus especially on new skills that are outside your comfort zone.

Why can BrainHQ make a good – and unique – gift?

Giving gifts to those you love also is healthy for the brain. It triggers the production of the neuromodulator dopamine which facilitates the feeling of joy and reward as well as learning, memory, and brain plasticity. We pump dopamine not only when we get a gift but also in anticipation of giving one to someone we like.  This holiday season, you can not only give the gift of brilliance by sharing BrainHQ with a loved one, but you can also get a subscription for yourself. If you’re going to do brain training, it’s nice to have someone to share the experience with. It’s also the type of gift that just keeps on giving, because having a faster and more accurate brain affects just about every waking moment and experience.