The ultimate goal of cognitive skills training with Brain Power® is to promote neuroplasticity in the brain. Neuroplasticity is defined as the capacity of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain to modify their activity in response to environmental stimulation. Research has shown that the brain is very plastic or malleable in response to environmental stimulation. Years of intensive practice of a skill (such as musical training) results in the development of those areas of the brain utilized for this activity. The goal of cognitive skills training is to stimulate specific areas of the brain which will result in greater neuronal organization by promoting branching of neuronal dendrites, thus producing a larger number of neuronal connections. As a result, the brain increases its capacity to process information more accurately and efficiently.
While the concept of cognitive skills training has existed for over 25 years, researchers really did not understand exactly how cognitive skills training activities needed to be structured in order to effectively promote changes in the brain. Now that there are more sophisticated ways of studying the structure and physiological activity of the brain, we have been able to identify the important characteristics which must be included in an effective cognitive skills training program;
- Only intense training will successfully force the brain to develop new neural connections. Therefore, training must occur on a daily basis. Reducing the intensity and frequency of training produces a proportional reduction in the desired outcome.
- Inaccurate responses must be immediately corrected so that only accurate processing is reinforced. Therefore, training must be provided on an individual basis by a training facilitator that can reinforce accurate responses.
- The training activities must always remain difficult. While this may seem obvious, it is important that training activities continuously increase in difficulty in order to stimulate the brain to develop new neural connections.
- The training activity must be structured in a way to drive the skill to become automatic. In other words, it is not sufficient that the training activity can be done accurately, it must performed quickly and efficiently. This is accomplished by either forcing the person to complete the task in progressively shorter amounts of time or requiring that they respond on beat to a metronome so that there is no delay. This assures that the newly formed neural connections are operating at their maximum efficiency.
- The training program needs to be individually customized to address the specific cognitive problems that the person is experiencing. To do this, it is imperative that a reasonably comprehensive assessment be performed of the person’s cognitive abilities prior to training in order to develop an appropriate treatment plan. These abilities include, but are not limited to, attention and concentration, memory, phonetic awareness, visual processing speed and accuracy, reasoning and problem solving, and receptive and expressive language skills.
While this type of training requires a commitment of time and energy, we have found that most processing disorders can be effectively treated in 12 weeks. More complex developmental disorders and brain injuries can require up to 24 weeks of treatment. However, once the brain develops new neural connections, they are permanent and do not change. Follow-up studies have shown no loss in cognitive skills one year after training.