Brain FAQ’s


A scientific definition of neuroplasticity is the science of how the brain develops and remodels itself.

Brain plasticity is a concept that is very simple and extraordinarily complex.  The scientific definition is the brain’s ability to change chemically, physically, and functionally in response to stimulation.  These changes can be for better (positive plasticity) or worse (negative plasticity) and can happen at any age (birth until death).  This flexibility provides an amazing ability in our brain development and decline as well as adapting our distinct personalities.

The human brain is composed of approximately 100 billion neurons. Early researchers believed that the creation of new neurons stopped shortly after birth. Today, it is understood that the brain possesses the remarkable capacity to reorganize pathways, create new connections and, in some cases, even create new neurons.  How awesome is this!

According to the website Neuroscience for Kids, there are four key facts about neuroplasticity:

  • It can vary by age; while plasticity occurs throughout the lifetime, certain types of changes are more predominant during specific life ages.
  • It requires a variety of processes; plasticity is ongoing throughout life and involves brain cells other than neurons, including glial and vascular cells.
  • It can happen for two different reasons; as a result of learning, experience and memory formation, or as a result of damage to the brain.
  • The environment plays an essential role in the process, but genetics can also have an influence.

The first few years of a child’s life are a time of rapid brain growth. At birth, every neuron in the cerebral cortex has an estimated 2,500 synapses; by the age of three, this number has grown to a whopping 15,000 synapses per neuron.

The average adult, however, has about half that number of synapses. Why? Because as we gain new experiences, some connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning. Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain is able to adapt to the changing environment.

Positive Plasticity occurs when you create and/or strengthen your brain network connections by challenging your brain with new activities.  These activities create new pathways and also engages quieter parts of the brain. The brain needs to be challenged throughout our lifetime. The process to mastery is good for the brain.  However, once an activity has been ‘mastered’, the activity will no longer impact your brain health. The brain is a Learning Machine – it needs to be challenged and learning new novel activities continually to stay in top working order.

Negative Plasticity occurs when you weaken and lose your brain network connections by not performing activities that you once did.  Bad habits can change the brain also — unused parts of the brain decline and eventually stop working when not in use.  Use it or Lose it!  The fastest way to lose your demise is to stop your brain being challenged – your physical will deteriorate also.  Connections that are infrequently used are allowed to diminish because the brain assumes these connections are no longer needed and cleans out old links; whereas, highly active neurons are strengthened and preserved.

Cognitive skills are core abilities the brain uses to think, learn, read, remember, pay attention, and critically reason in a meaningful way unlike skills based on our academic knowledge.  These cognitive skills impact how effectively we process information that is received from our senses. Our cognitive skills do not operate in isolation.  They work together to orchestrate that vital overall cognitive performance.  If one of our cognitive skills is weak, there is an impact to the efficiency of our performance.

In fact, most learning struggles are caused by one or more weak cognitive skills. Specific tasks such as reading and writing rely heavily on cognitive skills.  Additionally, as we age, we experience the impact of declining cognitive skills in our movement, our hearing, our memory, our visual processing, etc.  Some specific cognitive skills include:

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Sequencing
  • Processing Speed (which includes auditory and visual processing)
  • Higher-level executive functions such as logic and critical reasoning

The performance of cognitive skills can be strengthened at any age with the right training – Contact FitBrain™ for a chat.

Attention — This cognitive skill plays a remarkable role in the brain. When you pay close attention to something, your brain actually releases more acetylcholine and other chemicals. These chemicals boost your brain’s ability to learn and remember by amplifying the signals that are sent from one brain cell to another.  There are different types of attention and each plays a critical role in our learning and performance.  Sustained attention is the ability to stay focused on a task for a sustained period.  In contrast, selective attention is the ability to stay focused on a specific task despite surrounding distractions and noise.  Divided attention provides the ability to remember information while doing two things at once.   The ability to focus on what matters and ignore what doesn’t is way more important than we realise.  It impacts our memory, what we see, what we hear, and how fast we process information.

Memory – There are different types of memory but working memory and long-term memory impact our learning abilities. Our working memory is the very short-term memory (less than a minute) which acts as a kind of “scratch pad” for the brain.  An example of working memory would be the ability to hold the first part of a sentence in memory long enough to get to the end of the sentence for meaning.  Long-term memory is the ability to remember information in the past such as remembering names, places, and things.  Weak working memory can create (1) difficulty in processing all the sounds in a word (it is muddy); (2) the need to re-read sentences or directions; (3) difficulty in following multi-step instructions; (4) forgetting what was just said in a conversation.  Memory abilities have a very close relationship to attention skills and auditory processing skills.

Sequencing – There is a sequence to everything in our lives.  For example, reading requires phonemes (single units of sound) be put together to make syllables, syllables put together make words, words put together make sentences, sentences put together make paragraphs, paragraphs put together make passages and stories – the order/sequence is critical for each of these steps.  Sequencing is also important to what we hear because if our auditory processing skill is weak, the brain will not discriminate the subtle sounds within words as they are spoken such as STOP or SPOT and this changes the meaning of everything.

Processing Speed – This is the speed at which you process information or the time it takes to complete a mental task.  It is the rate at which sensory information is received and responded to.  Strengthening this skill increases the amount of details and the rate at which information can be processed and organised.  It impacts the details of what we hear, what we see, and our movements.  Processing speed impacts the efficiency of working memory, reading text, listening to a story, following along in a conversation, maths, etc.

Auditory Processing – This is the ability to discriminate, blend, and segment sounds (within words) as they really are and at the natural language speed (which is 40 sounds per second).  The ears hear and the brain processes the incoming auditory information.   When this cognitive skill is weak, the world is traveling at one speed, but the processing of the incoming information is at a lower speed. The speed at which we process auditory information impacts many factors within our lives that you may not realise.

For the young developing child, they may find learning to read difficult or following along a conversation or staying focussed in the classroom or following multi-step instruction, or remembering what was just said because they cannot take in all the information at the speed it is spoken.  They are processing this information at a slower rate, desperately trying to catch up or keep up, missing details, a little off-balance throughout the day and exhausted at day’s end.

For the adult, they may find they are not able to stay attentive, or follow along conversations in a group, or losing interest in social activities, or misunderstanding what someone says, or misinterpreting a discussion, or forgetting names.  These are all caused by weakened auditory processing skills.

Our cognitive abilities control our verve, our brightness, our confidence, our ‘spark’, our zest for life, our vitality, and for the young developing brain, it impacts self-esteem.  When we are not performing at our best abilities, it impacts our daily life.  See for yourself how a boost with cognitive skills training impacts your brightness and your performance.

By being mentally active and continually challenging the brain throughout our life, the brain naturally develops additional cognitive capacity which protects it from deterioration such as helping to delay the risk of dementia later in life.  The more a brain function is used, the stronger the mental skills AND the longer it takes for it to diminish.

Automaticity is something that is done subconsciously, without thinking.  Many activities and processes we do daily demand our attention and conscious effort.  Automatic processes, however, are fast, fluid, effortless and demand little attention to their low-level details. . . and are hard to disrupt once they become automatic.  Two examples of automaticity action are:

  • Riding a bike – most of us learn this activity as a child and we don’t give it much thought as we jump back onto a bike (no matter how many years/decades it has been since we last rode a bike). A lot is going on to ride a bike but once this skill is learned, it becomes automatic from repetition and practice; and it doesn’t require much conscious effort on our part any longer.  If, however, when you are learning to ride a bike, one needs to continuously think about moving the pedals in a steady clockwise motion as well as positioning the hands to constantly steer and/or brake, all at the same time as adjusting to maintain balance, looking and adapting to upcoming obstacles.  For a fun video, check out The Backwards Brain Bicycle in the Resources (General) “Riding a Bike and Automaticity” section.  This 7-minute video shows your brain automaticity in action.  See what happens when one small change is made to the bicycle and how a young developing child handles the challenge compared with an adult to ride this new bicycle.
  • Reading – Learning to read is a complex process, and needs to be developed to automaticity if one is to become an efficient and effective reader. Some of us have automaticity in our reading skills and some of us do not.  Those that have reading automaticity no longer require a conscious effort on their part to read.  And they would not remember all the bits and pieces they have developed over the years on their reading acquisition journey.  All these bits and pieces are now done subconsciously so the mind is free for comprehension and higher-level thinking which makes the text more interesting and stimulating.  Reading is enjoyed by those that have reached reading automaticity. Those that have not developed reading automaticity will find reading exhausting and joyless.  They would be aware of all the bits and pieces such as having to think about sounding out every syllable in every word.  This syllable by syllable (decoding) grind slows reading down substantially, erodes comprehension, and requires deep concentration.  Decoding needs to be an automatic response pattern for reading to be easy and fun.  Automaticity is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.  Still, this learning, repetition and practice need to be in the correct sequence to reach the outcome expected (especially for the brain structure required for reading automaticity).

“The human brain weighs about 1.4 kg. This is only about two per cent of our body weight.  However, the brain is the most active organ that we possess using 20% of the body’s oxygen and 25% of the body’s energy (glucose) consumption. The brain is also the most complex structure known to man. It contains more than 100 billion brain cells (neurons), each of which is connected to around 10,000 other neurons. That’s one million billion connections that need to be maintained – a truly astounding number. So far no one has ever managed to find a limit to either our brain’s processing power or all that it can remember.

Our brain’s neural network extends to all parts of our body through our nervous system. This is because our nervous system is also entirely constructed of neurons and our brains are part of the same network or body system. This vast network of neurons controls all of the body’s functions, from our heart rate, breathing and moving, to our sight, hearing, touch and emotion, and onto our consciousness, memory and thinking.” (Proactive Ageing 2011)

An example of this difference would be that you might have the capacity to speak another language, but how efficient is your skill?  You know that if you practice your new language skill, you become more efficient and fluent – did you also notice that as your new language skill progresses, you require less energy to listen and speak in this new language. This is the exactly what happens with each of your cognitive skills.  Cognitive skills work the same way, you may have the capacity to learn, read, listen, remember, pay attention to detail, reason but how efficient are you with each of these skills?

We all know that one needs to be doing the correct exercise to get the results one expects.  For instance, you would not do leg lunges if you wanted the outcome of stronger biceps.  My question to you is, “What specifically do you want to accomplish by doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku”?  If you do crosswords and Sudoku because they are fun and enjoyable, then by all means continue.  We all need fun activities – just be aware there is no scientific evidence that crossword puzzles or Sudoku help the brain stay healthy or support cognitive skill development.

Lifestyle choices play a major role in our brain fitness and health – think TEAMWORK.  Some of the major contributors would include:

  • Eat well — There are many articles on this subject if you want to learn more. One article you might want to start with is on the Healthline web site by Kerri-Anne Jennings.  See Resources (General) “Food/Diet” for a link to this website and evidence-based article.   A quick summary of this article by Dr. Jennings,   “Many foods can keep your brain healthy.  Some foods, such as fruits and vegetables (see the list in the full article), as well as tea and coffee, have antioxidants that help protect your brain from damage.  Others, such as nuts and eggs, contain nutrients that support memory and brain development.  You can help support your brain health and boost your alertness, memory and mood by strategically including these foods in your diet.”
  • Exercise daily — Exercise your body . . . for your body and your brain. The overall health of your body determines how well your brain can function on any given day.  Think TEAMWORK.  What is good for a part is good for the whole.  There is so much research on the importance of exercising so be sure to learn the specifics for yourself.  See Resources (General) “Movement an Exercise” for a link to a podcast by Movement specialist M.A. Greenstein, PhD, on ‘Movement, Exercise, and the Brain’.
  • Sleep — More and more evidence is emerging on the importance of good sleep to healthy cognitive function. Poor sleep is associated with foggy thinking, slower reaction times, memory lapses, flagging attention, and more.   How many times have you said to yourself, “I was really fatigued yesterday but after a good night’s rest, I feel whole again”?  This says a lot.

To get you started with learning more about sleep, check out the neuroscientist, Dr. Matthew Walker. He has much to say on this topic.  (See Resources (General) “The Importance of Sleep” for a link to one of his short videos).  A few of my Sleep Ahh Ha’s would include:

  • Sleep clears the toxins and debris out of your brain. If you are not sleeping well, this ‘waste’ accumulates in the brain.
  • Sleep is vital BEFORE learning and AFTER learning to store and save new information/memories and solidify them into the architecture of the brain.
  • You could be a far better version of yourself mentally, cognitively, physiology if you just got more sleep. Ahhh, Team Work!
  • There is no such thing as a ‘sleep bank’ – you can’t accumulate a sleep debt and then hope to cash in on this sleep debt at the weekend – sleep doesn’t work like that.  Check out the research to find out how it does work.
  • Sleep creates the remarkably complex neuro-physiological and neuro-chemical ballet that we all require. However, you need the entire sleep cycle for the full dance and not just some of the dance steps.
  • Stay socially engaged – You will be glad to hear that schmoosing is good for the brain. Michigan researchers say they’ve found that shooting the bull with friends has measurable benefits for the brain, keeping it sharp in later life.  See Resources (General) “Staying Socially Engaged” for a link to this article.
  • LEARN something new . . . and then get good at it!  This is actually Food for your Brain and the sky is the limit with this one.  There is so much learning that we can do that keeps the brain stimulated.  Learn strategy games/cards, a new dance or dance routine, a new language, take a class.  Learn to play chess, to knit, to play an instrument, to take a class, to juggle.  If you already juggle or play an instrument, add to this talent by challenging the brain with more or different elements or a more difficult routine or a different instrument/language, etc.  Do you get what brain food is all about?  LEARNing (and getting good at this new learning or hobby) and CHALLENGEing the brain to the next level of this new skill or hobby.  Find ways to engage yourself in new learning as a continuous aspect of your life – find your willingness to try something NEW and then continually improve upon these new skills.
  • Sharpen mental skills — try some evidence-based, cognitive training exercises. It is the quickest and easiest way to improve cognition at its root cause and it can be fun also.  It can easily be added to your busy daily schedule.  This type of training does make a difference for everyone — no matter your age or your current neuronal performance.

Developing the Young Brain

Central auditory processing disorder (CAPD or APD as is now more common) is a disconnect between how an individual hears sound and how this sound is processed in the brain. In most cases, there is no hearing loss or neurological disease involved. Because it impacts internal skills — listening, working memory, thinking — auditory processing disorder can be difficult to detect.  Additionally, symptoms of APD can be shared with other conditions such as ADD/ADHD, learning difficulties, reading difficulties.  APD is not a condition or affliction, but rather an auditory deficit (not a physical hearing deficit), where the cognitive makeup of the brain as a whole is unable to process sound and language accurately and at the speed of natural speech.

Auditory processing challenges have been described as listening to sound through water.   There is a correlation between auditory processing skill efficiency and learning outcomes.  Auditory processing is a fundamental cognitive skill because it determines language mastery which is our gateway to reading and learning. Children whose language processing skills do not mature and develop are at risk for difficulties in:

  • Learning – requires listening accuracy and comprehension skills
  • Reading – good strong oral language skills impact the written language skills required to read
  • Social interaction – requires language to have confident interactions
  • Thinking – internal dialogue uses language

Delays in auditory processing causes degraded language and also impedes development of working memory, attention skills and higher-level thinking and learning. Children with auditory processing difficulties will almost always have a challenge with reading comprehension. If letter sounds are not clear, reading is not automatic. It will require constant concentration and extra effort.  It is important to know, learning difficulties due to weak auditory processing skills is NOT about a child’s intelligence.  In fact, the brighter the child, the longer they are able to mask an underlying auditory processing weakness.

The school day for a child struggling with auditory processing may be more challenging, frustrating and more embarrassing than anyone might realise.  Symptoms can include:

  • Much of what the teacher is saying in class is missed (particularly in noisy classrooms).
  • Homework can be frustrating and stressful. This stems from not understanding the assignment, and/or an inability to follow the lesson in class, and/or reading difficulties.
  • Always slower in completing work in class and with homework.
  • Mentally tired at the end of the school day. They need to work harder on the basics of listening, reading, writing, comprehending than a student who has efficient language processing skills.
  • Reading out loud in class or with parent is often a daily struggle.
  • Frequently daydreaming or inattentiveness.
  • Needs to have information repeated frequently. “What did you say?”
  • Social conversations with peers can be challenging (particularly in noisy playgrounds or classrooms).

These daily frustrations erode confidence and self-esteem.  Furthermore, they create a negative connection to reading and learning that over time will be hard to reverse.

Listening accuracy is the brain’s ability to move auditory information—for example, the sequence of sounds in bid  that make it different from did or dib —from one place in the brain to the next quickly. More specifically, listening accuracy refers to the brain’s ability to discriminate rapid, successive sounds.

If the brain’s listening accuracy is poor, this information either travels too slowly or it doesn’t make it to its destination at all. The child/adult will have a difficult time keeping up with speech sounds made in “real time”—in other words, conversation!

Sometimes people who have poor listening accuracy also have difficulty processing sound; for instance, when you are learning a foreign language, he or she speaks slowly and pauses between words. In the same way, a person with poor listening accuracy may have an easier time understanding what you’re saying if you speak to them slowly.  If words like got and cot sound the same to a child learning to read, they will have difficulty learning that a written g is associated with the first sound of got but a written c is associated with the first sound of cotIf they are unable to discriminate in a ‘g’ or ‘c’ sound, how do they spell a word correctly?

Dyslexia is a not a disease or disorder, nor is it about intelligence – It’s about brain organisation.  Neuroscience research shows us that children who have dyslexia have a brain that is organised differently with regards to language skills.  They have many strengths, they have many intellectual capabilities, they may have strong skills in music, sports, art, maths, science, etc.   Reading, however, is not their strong suit and some of the skills that underlie reading, like phonological awareness, is hard for them.   Many researchers believe developmental dyslexia is characterised by difficulties in phonological processing, specifically phonological awareness (ability to identify and manipulate the sound structures of words).  Reading is a complex process that involves multiple brain systems.  Whenever a process requires multiple systems to work together, so, too, exist multiple opportunities for problems to present themselves if a piece in the ‘process’ is weak or faulty.  Develop these area/s of the brain first so learning to read falls into place.  Cognitive skills that impact reading can be developed; evidence-based brain training is one way to accomplish this.

[Excerpt from article by Dr. Martha Burns, Problems with the Human “Letter Box”: A Component of Dyslexia, Oct 6, 2015]

The human brain is not “wired” for reading. [So, it needs to be developed to take on reading instruction.]  Children need to perceive speech sounds and letters quickly and accurately as a precursor for reading.  In the occipital lobe, there is a “letter box”—the visual word form area of the brain.  Recent research indicates that dyslexics have trouble with both hearing the sounds within words & recognizing letters.

For many with dyslexia, the “letter box” part of the brain is not responding the way it does in typical readers.

. . . It is helpful to remind ourselves of what underlying capacities are needed for reading. With an alphabetic language like English, reading requires that we integrate the speech sounds of our language (phonemes) with the letters (graphemes).  This “sound-letter (or phoneme-grapheme) correspondence” necessitates two capacities – the ability to perceive speech sounds quickly and accurately as well as the ability to perceive letters quickly and accurately.   See Resources (White Papers & Other Resources) for link to the full article.

The myth that children ‘flip letters’ or ‘read backwards’ is actually children with phonological processing deficits – they are not able to map letters to correct sounds.

When the language foundation in the brain is not efficient and effective, a child will display at least several of these.

  • Problems following directions;
  • Frequent daydreaming or inattention;
  • Misunderstands what you say;
  • Deny hearing the beginning or middle of long oral information;
  • Requests information be repeated;
  • Gives slow or delayed responses;
  • Retells events inaccurately;
  • Is slow to get to the point;
  • Has difficulty with ambiguous language, idioms or jokes;
  • Has difficulty remembering the question when called upon in class;
  • Uses only a few descriptive words when speaking;
  • Seems reluctant to engage in conversations;
  • Has difficulty reconstructing a story in its appropriate order;
  • Has difficulty with phonics or spelling;
  • Not performing in class at their full potential – but don’t know why?

Yes, language is hierarchical.  Each step in our language acquisition depends on and builds on the previous step.  So, if a step is weak or not developed, it has an on-flow impact to all other steps in our language and reading  development.  We are genetically programmed to provide the first step (our brains are wired to learn our native language).   These language foundations develop from birth to 5 years old.  Reading, however, is not a natural act for the brain, and is a skill that must be explicitly taught and practiced. Reading skills are superimposed upon the language skill foundation. If the language foundation is weak or inefficient, learning to read becomes difficult (and for some, impossible).

Language skill development requires a ‘bottoms up’ approach.  Our definition of language would be anything to do with words (words being the core unit of a language) since only at word level do you have meaning.  Sounds within a word do not have meaning but only with the ability to discriminate sounds can you move towards building words.  Perceiving sounds within words and having the brain understand each of these sounds is where the difficulty can start.  The brain needs to be able to differentiate ‘pat’ from ‘bat’.

If the child’s language skills are weak somewhere along the line, they will fall behind in school

Typically, this is a decoding problem.  They are unable to hear all the different sounds in a word so they are not able to decode what they are hearing and connect it to the printed representation.  For example, take the word ‘spend’ – there are 4 phonemes (single units of sound) in this word.  A child may only ‘hear’ 2 or 3 phonemes; therefore, it is difficult to understand the connection in what they are hearing with the spelling of the word.

The skill of decoding is being able to use the alphabetic principle (that each letter represents a sound) to sound out the phonemes (single units of sound) of a word and then to blend those phonemes into a recognisable word.  Someone that has weak decoding skills has difficult breaking down printed words to its sound.  When the decoding skill is not an automatic skill, it slows down reading fluency and erodes comprehension – reading is exhausting and joyless.  This syllable by syllable grind (decoding) requires time, effort, and concentration by the reader to sound out every syllable in every word instead of their mind being free for comprehension and higher-level thinking that makes the text more interesting and stimulating.  Decoding needs to be an automatic response pattern for reading to be easy and fun.  As an adult we no longer need to decode as much, but when learning to read, this skill is critical.

Poor spelling has multiple causes.  It is important to understand what the core challenge is with each child.  Some of the challenges include:

  • Auditory Processing — Not able to hear all the sounds within words such as SPLASH – S/ P/ L/ A/ SH.
  • Auditory Discrimination — Not able to discriminate between different sounds such as a /b/ and /d/ in words bad and dad.
  • Sequencing — Unable to properly sequence the sounds in a word in the correct order such as STOP and SPOT.
  • Working memory
  • Visual MEMORY – Students with poor visual memory would not be able to learn sight words by looking at a word, covering up the word with their hand, and then writing the word.

Often a person who finds spelling a challenge will have a combination of the above problems.  Our language skills (and skills to read) are interwoven.

Yes, there is a language skills assessment that will indicate the strength of phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. These skills are supported by oral language and required for reading. Contact FitBrain if you need additional information.

Reading fluency is important because it is one of the most reliable determiners of a student’s ability to comprehend text.  Fluent readers focus less on figuring out words (decoding) and more on understanding and comprehending what they are reading.  The more effortless reading becomes for a student, the more enjoyable and interesting it is.

There are some students that appear to be fluent readers, but they are not comprehending what they are reading – this is not a fluent reader.  While they may find it easy to read words, they have difficulty deriving meaning or putting words together to create sentences and narratives.

Reading out loud in a slow and deliberate manner indicates the reader is having to concentrate on sounding out every word. Fluent readers do not need to concentrate on every word.  They decode subconsciously and effortlessly (called automaticity)*.  This allows them to focus instead on comprehending the text.  Slow readers can lose track of the meaning over the course of a paragraph or page, leading to a lot of re-reading.  Meaning is extracted from text that is retained in working memory.  Slow reading makes it hard to fully load a sentence/paragraph into working memory before it is lost . . . and the opportunity to extract meaning passes.

*For an explanation of how automaticity in reading is important, go to Brain FAQ’s (General), What is automaticity and how does it impact cognitive skill efficiency?

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!

Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so.
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on the right.

Children find rhyming ‘cool’, fun, and an opportunity to perform so they want to do it over and over. Rhyming is also a very important building block to language development in a play setting that will be built upon for reading instruction at a later time.  Rhyming helps a child discriminate sounds in words such as:

  • hearing the ends of words (star/are, bite/right)
  • hearing the beginning sounds in a word (den, ben, ten, men, pen)
  • identifying syllables in words (jump ing, sing ing)
  • developing inflection in their voices

Rhyming is a pre-literacy skill that builds sound discrimination skills as well as building word families.  When children realise that similar sounds are found in words they have heard before, they build a library of sounds in their brain for language.  Children that find rhyming difficult are indicating that the language foundations are not solid and they may have auditory processing challenges.  These inefficiencies need to be strengthened in order to develop into a fluent reader.

Reading skills are superposed onto our language foundations that develop from birth to 5 years old.  If the language foundation is weak or inefficient, learning to read becomes difficult (and for some, impossible). Poor readers indicate that some of the language areas of the brain are NOT ACTIVATED causing others areas to compensate for this inefficiency and are overworked when dealing with any type of language processing such as listening in class and reading.  This inefficiency causes MENTAL FATIGUE.  These students work much harder with language processing activities throughout their school day than a student that has efficient and effective language processing skills.  Think about this – over 80% of classroom instruction is presented through talking.  No wonder these students are mentally tired at the end of the day.  Most of these language processing inefficiencies are primarily at the level of phonology – Fix the inefficiencies and these students can move to their peak performance.

It depends.  Educators, tutors, professional specialists/clinicians, and brain training all have their purpose.  Every brain is unique, so one solution does not fit for everyone.  It is important to understand what the brain needs in order to get the outcomes you want.  It is important to know what the root of the problem is (instead of only looking at the symptoms) so you are spending the time and money on the correct solution.  For example, doing leg lunges may be of value but they will not build bigger biceps no matter how much time you spend on this.

  • Explicit instruction – generally, this is direct instruction for the explicit teaching of a specific skill-set such as reading, music, dance, maths, academic/trade studies, etc.
  • Tutoring – this may be required when the subject content wasn’t grasped previously in the class, or if additional practice is required, or if you want to advance your skill set in the subject matter above and beyond what is being taught.
  • Professional Specialists/Clinicians/Experts/Practitioners – ‘Subject matter experts’ offer a vast array of expertise to diagnose symptoms and indicators in order to offer their approach to address them. Many of these professional specialists will offer or recommend cognitive skills training as part of their solution.
  • Brain Training – this is used to develop and strengthen the foundational cognitive skills used to learn. It is not about teaching academic content (specific skill set such as reading or maths) but rather about developing and strengthening the neuronal network that is used to take in and process incoming information efficiently and effectively.  If there are weaknesses in the foundational neuronal network, explicit instruction and/or tutoring is not very effective because the foundational network is not efficient and effective to cope with the instruction given.

Contact FitBrain to discuss the symptoms and the outcomes you want to accomplish.

English Language Learners (as Second Language)

Firstly, by building the English language brain with specific training in speech sound discrimination, it improves the brain ability to process language efficiently and effectively.  English is a phonetic language (whereas, for example, Chinese is a tonal language).  Learning the phonetic sounds of English at the neuronal level in the brain starts the English language development at the correct place.  Many of the sounds required for efficient language processing in English have not been developed previously with many bilingual speakers.  Why?  Because their native tongue would not require this type of phonetic detail and their brain would not have developed the phonetic neuronal pairings such as ba/da, bi/di/, be/de or the fine discrimination required to differentiate between an ‘l’ and ‘r’ sound.  When the brain has not developed the sounds used in a language that one is learning, it makes learning that language more difficult.  It makes word memory muddy and unclear which impact the comprehension.  Additionally reading, vocabulary, spelling are all more difficult to learn and understand.

Secondly, the rules of English and vocabulary are complex.  Learning these rules become much easier once the sounds have been developed.  Simple, functional English is one thing, but academic English becomes very challenging when learning by rote memorisation.

Yes, language is hierarchical.  Each step depends on and builds on the previous one.  If a step is weak or not developed, it has an on-flow impact to all other steps in its development.  Language requires a ‘bottoms up’ approach.

  1. First, learn and develop the sounds of English at the neuronal level. This includes the letter sounds, phonological awareness, and listening comprehension. Remember hearing a sound and listening comprehension differ.  Hearing the sound is a function of the ears whereas listening comprehension is when those sound waves become meaningful in the brain. The brain must develop the ability to discriminate different sounds before it will be able to process the sound to comprehension.
  2. Once the brain is recognising those fine phonemic sounds, developing vocabulary and the rules of English grammar, syntax and spelling become more effective to learn. Explicit teaching of these rules has a structure and order that makes learning easier and effective. The key is to ensure the brain has developed the sound system in the brain for the English language before learning the rules.
  3. Practice – once the language acquisition foundation has been developed, the key to being a good reader is then to practice for reading fluency. Reading practice before the sound acquisition foundation has been completed at the neuronal level is not effective because the reading practice is still with an inefficient machine. Build the machine first.

Contact FitBrain to learn how learning the sounds of English, the rules of English, and skills of reading fluency can be accomplished in your home once a training program has been set for your specific outcomes.

Yes, there are guided oral reading modules that can be completed in the comfort of your home.  These modules will provide you the benefit of selecting content that is of interest to you while providing intensive reading practice.   These modules deliver developmentally appropriates text for both silent reading and oral reading practice while providing real-time corrective guided reading feedback.  Some of the tools available are teaching vocabulary and pronunciation of new words prior to reading the passage as well as offering comprehension and vocabulary reports to track specific areas of weakness or strength.

This on-line guided oral reading tool improves vocabulary, reading fluency, comprehension, and prosody (ability to use proper intonation and expression).  They also provide the opportunity to practice pronunciation.

A fluent reader is able to read for meaning with ease.   A fluent reader will focus less on figuring out words and are able to understand and comprehend what they are reading.  Reading fluency is the best indicator of reading comprehension mastery.  For explanation of how automacity in reading is important, link to Brain FAQ’s (General), “What is automaticity and how does it impact cognitive skill efficiency?”

Yes, there are a series of neuroscience reading programs that will provide reading content at the level you need to learn, to catch up, or to review in the comfort of your own home.  This includes an academic vocabulary and complex grammar module that I highly recommend for absolutely every student in order to be ready for the higher-level reading and written curriculum required for high school and university.  Contact FitBrain for the course coverage of this module.

Yes, there is a reading program that mainly works with critical thinking, abstract thinking and comprehension strategies and will develop processing speed.  This is a very unique reading module so I would always ensure a student is ready to take this on before recommending it.

The Brain in Recovery

The correct cognitive training program can help retrain the brain to try and recover some of the connections and neurons that were scrambled, or lost, or burned out by inflammation, medication, treatments, stroke or brain injury.  A conversation should be started with FitBrain™ to ensure we are the right fit for you.

See Resources (Adults) “Stroke – A Powerful Stroke of Insight” to listen to Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, talk about her comeback after a massive stroke.

In its most brief form, it is a decrease in ‘mental sharpness’, a mental cloudiness, that impacts memory, focus/attention, mood and learning after cancer treatment.  Doctors and researchers refer to chemo brain by different names such as cancer treatment-related cognitive impairment, cancer-therapy associated cognitive change, or post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment.

The following is from the Mayo Clinic website — see Resources (Adults) “Chemo Brain” for the link to their site.

Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.

Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it’s misleading. It’s unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.

Despite the many questions, it’s clear that the memory problems commonly called chemo brain can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment. More study is needed to understand this condition.

Symptoms – Signs and symptoms of chemo brain may include the following:

  • Being unusually disorganized
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Difficulty learning new skills
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of mental fogginess
  • Short attention span
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks
  • Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation
  • Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words

 Using evidence-based, repetitive exercises to train your brain can help with memory, attention span, thinking speed, coordination, mood and confidence.  Using the correct type of exercises can help your brain repair broken circuits, increase actual speed of brain processing, and/or activate the key chemicals (neuromodulators) that may contribute to chemo brain.

Rejuvenating the Brain - Over 50's

Cognitive decline is a gradual weakening of understanding, thinking and remembering that is a natural and expected part of ageing. We all face a gradual loss in mental sharpness as we age.  However, specific brain training can slow down this age-related cognitive decline.

Cognitive decline is driven by several underlying interacting changes in the brain that gradually cause a decline in brain ‘machinery’ function. There are three key underlying changes in the brain that cause this decline:

  1. A slowing in brain processing speed.
  2. A weakening of brain signals from the senses.
  3. A decrease in the production of key brain chemicals (neuromodulators).

Like most older machines, the brain undergoes slow physical deterioration.  A declining use exacerbates this symptom.  In the early part of life, the rapid pace of learning makes continuous, powerful changes in brain machinery. However, as people get older, they often become like concert violinists who have stopped practicing.   They are resting on their laurels and although they still play a pretty good fiddle, the practiced ear can hear their skills are gradually fading.

As people grow older, they unknowingly contribute to their brain’s decline by not using and challenging it as much.

Typically, when a person retires, they don’t interact with others as much; they don’t challenge their brain to problem solve or be creative as often; they may stick to a predictable routine in the same environment every day without much variety in their schedule. While this existence may sound like a much-anticipated break, the brain goes on an extended break too — unless we ‘use it’, we will ‘lose it’.   So, information that is rarely accessed or behaviours seldom practiced will cause neural pathways to weaken and may be completely lost in a process called synaptic pruning.

A fact of aging is that the older we get, the faster the decline in our cognitive skills . . ..  UNLESS we do something to slow down this process.  Specific brain training is the easiest and most effective way to impact the brain’s cognitive skills.

When we talk about dementia, we are talking about symptoms. The term “dementia” describes a set of symptoms that includes things like memory loss, trouble behaving appropriately in social situations, difficulty speaking or understanding language, adverse changes in mood and demeanour, and so forth. If a doctor determines that a person has dementia, what he means is that the patient is showing some of these symptoms.  [As outlined by Alzheimer’s Australia.]  See Resources (Adults) “Alzheimer’s and Dementia” for link

Dementia has many different causes, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common form of dementia, accounting for around two-thirds of dementia cases.   Alzheimer’s disease causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities, usually beginning with memory loss.

There is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia. However, certain lifestyle choices may be useful.   According to the Mayo Clinic, keeping your mind* and body active, maintaining a healthy social life, lowering blood pressure, quitting smoking, and eating right might help delay dementia, though much more research needs to be done.  [As outlined by Brain HQ.]  See Resources (Adults) “Alzheimer’s and Dementia” for the link.   The best approach for dementia is overall health management to slow down deterioration.

*One way to keep your mind active is to use evidence-based brain exercises proven to enhance memory, attention, and processing speed.

You can have near-perfect hearing and still have trouble hearing. Why? Because the brain plays a major role in vision and hearing. The brain has to process the raw information that your eyes and ears deliver for you to make sense of that information. If your brain’s processing is slow or inaccurate, you may have trouble understanding what you see or hear. And unfortunately, slower processing is a common side effect of aging.  The natural decline of the brain ‘machinery’ impacts the strength and speed of our cognitive skills.  Muddled words are not necessarily caused by a loss of hearing.  Most of the time it is due to the brain slowing down in its auditory processing speed.  The brain takes the sound vibrations (from the ears) and converts them into electrical signals and is interpreted by the brain.  When the brain slows down, it actually impacts what we ‘hear’ because the brain can’t quite keep up with the information that is coming at it.  The information we are receiving from our senses is fuzzy.    And when the brain is only making partial fuzzy representations of what we hear (and see), it also impacts our attention, our memory and our problem-solving — we don’t feel as mentally sharp as we use to.

This slower processing can be helped with some cognitive skill exercises.  There are exercises that:

  • Improve vision and hearing by increasing visual processing speed and auditory processing; and allows your brain to keep up with the pace of the information that is coming its way;
  • Decrease fuzziness. When your brain can make clear, accurate representations of what you hear and what you see, you remember this information more easily.
  • Sharpens attention. When your brain is stimulated, it pumps all those brain chemicals which improves your focus.

See Resources (Adults) “Brain HQ” for the link to information and citations for research on the effects of cognitive skills training on vision and hearing. 

It is very important to maintain our driving independence and our driving confidence for as long as we can.  It is also vitally important that we keep our driving skills in tip-top order. Cognitive ability is a critical measure of safe driving.  You might have near-perfect eyes and ears and still have trouble hearing and seeing.  Why?  Because the brain plays a major role in vision and hearing as well as the eyes and ears.  If the brain processing of the information that the eyes and ears delivers is slow or inaccurate, it impacts what you see and hear . . . and also impacts your reactions to it.  Slower processing is a common side effect of aging.  And the older we get, the faster the decline in our cognitive skills unless we do something to slow down this process.  Cognitive skills training is the easiest and most effective way to impact the brain’s cognitive skills, and driving, specifically, requires the following skills:

  • Accelerated reactions
  • Wider field of view (this is the area from which you can take in information with a single glance).
  • Faster visual processing

Various studies have been completed and are providing the following statistics in an actual reduction in accident risk when developing specific cognitive skills for those over 50.   These include:

  • 48% reduction in at-fault accident risk
  • Ability to stop 22 feet sooner at 55 mph (88 kph)
  • 38% reduction in dangerous driving manoeuvres like unsafe lane changes
  • Feeling more confident driving in difficult conditions (such as at night, in bad weather, or in new places)

See Resources (Adults) “Driving Safely” for the link to specifics and citation studies.  These studies used some of the evidence-based Brain HQ exercises.

The ACTIVE study is the first large-scale, randomized trial to test the long-term outcomes of cognitive training effects for the prevention of cognitive decline in daily functions and to prove healthy older adults can make significant cognitive improvements with appropriate cognitive training and practice.  This study was funded by the National Institute of Health and led by researchers at the Institute on Aging and six academic research universities (including Johns Hopkins, Penn State, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham).  The study was conducted at six sites across the United States, and all of the participants were healthy adults aged 65 or older.

The ACTIVE study evaluated three different types of cognitive training: (1) memory; (2) reasoning; (3) speed of processing. These targeted abilities were selected based on evidence that they exhibit relatively early age-related decline, beginning on average in the mid-sixties.  The critical importance of ACTIVE and similar preventive cognitive interventions is that they have shown to be effective both in maintaining functional competence and in coping with functional impairments.

See Resources (Adults) “The ACTIVE Study” for the link.

The Brain in Training

Brain training is a structured and efficient use of mental exercises designed to build targeted brain-based networks and capacities — aiming to improve specific brain functions. Since “neurons that fire together wire together”, repeatedly stimulating (i.e. exercising) a specific network of neurons results in new and strengthened connections in this network. This translates into improved neuronal efficiency that can result in better and more sustained performance.  It is not about your academic credentials, your knowledge, or IQ but rather the efficiency and effectiveness of your brain performance.

Remember, your brain is plastic.  You – anyone, everyone – can be stronger, more capable, more competent, and more intelligent.  Brain plasticity is about getting the most out of each brain.

As we all know, people differ quite a bit from one another in how much information they can maintain, manipulate, remember, and transform in their heads at one time. Crucially, these differences relate to meaningful outcomes.

Click the link “A little bit about brain trainingfor additional information.

It depends — not all brain training programs are the same.  Currently, the neuroscience evidence-based, cognitive skills training shares an industry with brain games designed for our entertainment.  There is a world of difference in the outcomes you can expect.

  • Brain Training is designed to build, rejuvenate and/or recover brain systems to a higher level of efficiency; whereas,
  • Brain Games are designed to entertain. It is typically a fun activity such as crosswords, sudoku, and some digital brain games; but these games do not drive long-term change from a neurological approach – they do not push the brain to a higher level of performance.  By all means, continue to have fun, but understand what you are getting so you are not expecting outcomes that are not possible with your entertainment/game.

The brain is plastic and with the correct brain training, you can develop, strengthen, and/or re-boot your brain performance.  This impacts your quality of life.   Do right by your brain – and yourself – by exercising your brain with evidence-based brain training.

Click the link A little bit about brain training for additional information.

Everyone can improve their cognitive skills efficiency and thus their brain performance.  For most of us, however, it becomes significant when we have a problem or want to excel further at a particular skill.

It is time for us ALL to take advantage of the extensive research within the neurosciences and bring brain training into our everyday life as we do with our knowledge of physical exercise, nutrition, sleep.  Once you experience real evidence-based training for yourself, you ‘get it’!  Experience it for yourself.

Brain training is a structured and efficient use of mental exercises targeting brain-based networks and capacities to improve specific brain functions such as language skills, memory, attention, visual and auditory processing speeds, mental sharpness, and academic performanceWe all can develop better brain performance.  Cognitive skills respond to exercise and training relatively quickly; but, of course, it requires using the correct exercises for the outcome expected.

For the young, developing brain — Learning, reading, and writing difficulties will impact the entire school years both academically and in self-esteem/confidence.  The earlier and quicker one strengthens the weak cognitive skills required to learn and read, the better for the student outcomes.   Additionally, skills such as memory, focusing, concentration, listening accuracy, staying attentive can also be improved (and developed).

For the adult brain Some of life’s hiccups cause us not to be as mentally sharp as we need to be or want to be or ‘use to be’.  Some of these interruptions can include cognitive decline from health-related, age-related, or medication/drug-related occurrence, illnesses, chemotherapy, stress, brain injury, stroke, symptoms of dementia/Alzheimer’s.  There are also times in our adult life, we may want to improve upon our already effective cognitive skills and move to another level of efficiency.

With brain training, one size does not fit all. It is important to have a training program to meet your individualised needs.

  • Are the exercises evidence-based for the outcomes expected?
  • Does the program adapt to your brain needs and your personality?
  • Is the brain training program accessible whenever you want to use it?
  • Do the exercises keep your brain challenged? Does the program adapt to YOUR performance and does it increase in difficulty as YOU improve?
  • Does your program have measurement tools for you to keep abreast of your progression?
  • Does your individualised program adapt to your current performance after a break in time?
  • Does it provide the support required as you move through your program?  Do you have someone to talk with?

Click the link A little bit about brain training for additional information.

We all have different brains and different needs and require different efforts, so a one-size-fits-all does not work with brain training.

FitBrain™ works with YOU to tailor an outcome-driven brain training program that will adapt to YOUR performance and increase in difficulty as YOU are ready.  The brain needs to be challenged but at a level of success to keep you involved.

FitBrain™ understands YOUR time is important so your program will be tailored to your schedule constraints and provide instruction and guidance to enable you to learn how to best use the many different exercises quickly and easily.  Using a personal cognitive coach is the quickest and most efficient approach getting your ‘spark’ back.

FitBrain™ can provide some educational pieces (if interested).  Learn what the neuroscience research tells us, learn what your brain is doing, and how these exercises impact the brain so you understand and appreciate what is happening – the brain is AWESOME and this is the opportunity to appreciate its workings while you are experiencing it so you get your Ahh Haa’s in your everyday life.  However, just following the program and doing your exercises will get you the cognitive skill benefits without knowing any more about these educational pieces on the brain.

FitBrain™ is your personal cognitive skills coach  — we are ready to assist when the going gets tough, when frustration sets in or when encouragement is needed.  Feel this energy buzz for yourself as the brain connections are happening.

FitBrain™ provides support as you go through the various stages as your brain machinery strengthens.

FitBrain™ will explain the measurement tools available to ensure you have the feedback/results as you progress in your program.

FitBrain™ gets you going quickly and easily with a personalised brain training program utilising on-line brain exercises until you are ready to fly solo – this could be as quick as 4 weeks.  Our goal is for you to have the tools and resources to continue your life-long brain fitness journey once you get this brain energy buzz.

Contact FitBrain to set up your individualised cognitive skills training program.