But what is a functional measure?
A functional measure simply tells you how well something works. In the physical world, there are lots of functional measures. How fast can you run a mile? How much weight can you lift? How fast can you swim across the pool? Can you run up 2 flights of stairs without getting out of breath? These measures tell you something about performance and how well your body functions when it tries to do something - when it is stressed or pushing the envelope.
Why are functional measures important? After all, I can get my resting blood pressure and heart rate without doing anything - and those measures are pretty close to identical to what they were when I was in college. But I promise that I can’t swim a mile or run a mile as fast as I could when I was in college. So if my resting blood pressure and heart rate are the same as they were 4 decades ago, does that mean I am in good physical shape?
When I was in college, we had to take the physicals before our training started, so some of us were not in the best of shape and we all passed the test with flying colors. Except for one guy – one of the upperclassmen that the freshmen (that’s what I was at the time) were supposed to look up to. When the nurse was not looking, he held his breath and did jumping jacks for about 90 seconds – plenty of time to NOT have a reasonable blood pressure and heart rate reading. The nurse almost had a heart attack and he ended up having to stay at the infirmary for quite a while. Anyway, it was pretty funny but it does demonstrate vividly the difference between a static measure versus a functional measure. Of course, the nurse had no idea what he had done, so she thought he was about to have a heart attack even though his measures would have been considered normal for the activity he had just done. You need to test the system to see if it is working properly and that is just what functional measures do.
Most people go through life without really thinking about being in good physical or mental shape. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not in that group. It’s easy to tell if you are in good physical shape because there are so many functional measures for that. But how do you tell if you are in good mental shape? Well, the answer is NOT getting your brain imaged or scanned. That will tell you if you have a tumor, but without some relatively large aberration to physically view in the image, it won’t provide you with an indicator that your brain function is altered. You could use the world’s best imaging device and not see any difference before and after taking a dozen shots of expresso – but I guarantee that you will feel difference and you’ll definitely score differently on a properly executed functional test. FYI, the Brain Gauge is pretty sensitive to caffeine, and you can read about that in here.
So what can you do with a functional brain measure like the Brain Gauge? Everyone has a different use. If you are recovering from concussion, when is it safe to return to play? After all, the ct scan is the standard of care for evaluating a concussion, but it does not detect the concussion. It just tells you if there is something worse than the concussion that you need to worry about. Many people worry about degenerative aging and you have probably read about so-called breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s where researchers have detected amyloid plaques with imaging - but that’s a bit too late in the process – you really need a functional measure to detect that problem long before that happens so you can hopefully reverse the trend. Many people are on medications or therapies for some neurological disorder and want to know if they are working. And many are on medications that are non-neurological (such as heart medications) and would like to know if those meds are impacting their brain function. Are your supplements working? Lots of advertisements and blogs out there say that they do, but how much data have you seen from bio-hackers? In short, the Brain Gauge is the ideal tool for someone that wants to track their progress and observe what impacts their brain function.
What if I don’t like my scores?
Believe it or not, we’ve heard this quite a bit. But to me, that’s a bit like saying, what if I don’t like how long it takes me to run a mile? About a year ago, I decided to try to get back in shape, so I just went out for a run. I was so slow that buzzards were circling around me. I did not bother looking at my watch – it was that bad. And I am not joking about the buzzards. The next week I did a bit better and got down to one buzzard. And then the next week I was even better and started to glimpse at the time it took me. Still pretty awful, but I slowly got better. Having trained for many decades in a wide variety of sports taught me to be patient and that it takes time to crawl out of that below normal hole. At first it feels impossible, but eventually you can recover. I spent the better part of 5 decades as a competitive swimmer, and just about everyone I knew in the sport had a pretty good idea about what they needed to do (or not do) to optimize their performance – and we’re talking about very minor fluctuations – in the neighborhood of 1 to 3%. The key ingredient? Measuring your performance.
Why not apply the same strategy to brain function?
We have seen the same type of training progression with many Brain Gauge users and in particular, with some that were recovering from what appeared to be really bad scores for a variety of reasons. The main point is to not get discouraged – there are a lot of good clinicians and researchers that are starting to give very good advice for how to improve brain health, and now you can track your progress as you search for what works for you.
It appears, that in this arena, trained athletes are a lot smarter than academic nerds. But researchers might eventually be catching up. Whereas a decade or two ago the notion that we just keep losing brain cells as we get older and never re-generate them was seemingly gospel, it now appears that we constantly re-wire and re-grow a lot of stuff in our brains. If you want to read about stroke and neuroplasticity, take a look at Bob Dennis’ book “Stroke of Luck”.