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National Guard Advances Warfighter Brain Fitness

Rear view of soldier, carrying a child with an American flag and walking into a field on a sunny day.

Center for BrainHealth and Warfighter Fitness

The National Guard Bureau has taken a bold step toward securing and enhancing Warfighter brain health, and ensuring cognitive combat readiness with the launch of a new initiative to measure, track and improve cognitive performance and psychological well-being. The Warfighter Brain Fitness program is a research protocol with almost 1,000 participants across the United States. In partnership with Applied Research Associates, Inc., the Center for BrainHealth® at The University of Texas at Dallas, Posit Science, and Cortical Metrics, the Warfighter Brain Fitness program will collect data to optimize the online delivery of scientifically validated cognitive training approaches to reserve and active-duty populations.The Warfighter Brain Fitness program leverages the BrainHealth dashboard and BrainHealth Index (BHI), both developed at the Center for BrainHealth for the purpose of conducting a similar large-scale study (The BrainHealth Project) in civilian populations. The BHI is a multi-dimensional measure of brain health and its upward potential. It is a composite metric derived from a series of best-in-class assessments that explore multiple aspects of an individual’s cognitive capacity, as well as their sense of well-being, quality of social interactions and complexity of daily routines. The result is a personalized, holistic score that becomes an individual’s baseline against which gains can be measured and analyzed. Participants in the Warfighter Brain Fitness program will also have access to the Brain Gauge, a small device similar to a computer mouse, that delivers vibrations to a user’s fingertips. The user answers simple questions about the vibrations, like “Which finger felt a vibration first?” and “Which finger felt the vibration for longer?” Over time, the vibrations become increasingly similar, making it increasingly difficult to answer these questions. Data on a user’s performance is analyzed using a machine learning model to provide a quantitative neurofunctional measure of brain health that has been validated in numerous DoD-funded studies.Most importantly, participants in Warfighter Brain Fitness will engage in two complementary approaches to brain training: SMART+ and BrainHQ. A proprietary protocol developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers over the past two decades, SMART+ teaches top-down cognitive strategies on how to process information more deeply and accurately, with an emphasis on improving complex cognitive functions, such as reasoning, problem-solving, decision-making and innovation. BrainHQ is a set of computer games that provide increasingly difficult challenges to bottom-up cognitive processes such as spatial processing speed and inhibition. BrainHQ increases the speed and accuracy with which the brain processes information. Both SMART+ and BrainHQ are extensively validated but have never been used together as they will be in Warfighter Brain Fitness.

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“The National Guard has really taken a leadership role in the Department of Defense in terms of prioritizing brain health, both as a means of increasing combat readiness and as a way of reducing the risk of significant psychological health issues. Through this effort, we expect to demonstrate the feasibility of improving brain health through cognitive training, and we will use the data we collect to refine how we deliver this training to active and reserve duty military personnel.” – Dr. Leanne Young, Principal Investigator, ARA
Jennifer Zientz, deputy director of programs at Center for BrainHealth, added, “We are proud to partner with Applied Research Associates, the National Guard and Special Operators in this unique, science-driven program to tackle brain health with focus and urgency. Better brain health enables people of every age and occupation to thrive in a constantly changing world, and our warriors and protectors deserve the most leading-edge tools and techniques to drive peak brain performance.” About the Center for BrainHealthThe Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Jennifer Zientz, MS, CCC-SLP

Deputy Director of Programs and Head of Clinical Services

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