Boosting Brain Fitness

Study participants undergo SMART training to assess overall brain health

Palak Dave
Mercury Staff

UTD’s Center for BrainHealth (CBH) is conducting a study to help individuals optimize their overall brain performance.

BBS professor and Chief Director of CBH Sandra Chapman has been studying the brain for more than 20 years. During her time in research, she and her team developed a way for people to train their brains using a variety of approaches and strategies. The result is the Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), which is exemplified through The BrainHealth Project created in March of 2020.

SMART – which is currently being done virtually – requires research participants to take a medical screening questionnaire and if they qualify, a series of assessments to determine their BrainHealth Index every six months. The BrainHealth Index measures and tracks a participant’s overall brain function in terms of social behavior, comprehension and health.

Margaret Athene Chaplin, administrative assistant of CBH, said the BrainHealth Index measures an individual’s brain performance based on their daily life, well-being and sociality. After getting their BrainHealth Index, participants meet virtually with a BrainHealth coach who explains what their BrainHealth Index means in detail.

“The coaching sessions help participants implement strategies in their daily life to optimize their brain’s performance,” Chaplin said. “If you have any particular hurdle, you can use your coaching session to get guidance on how to deal with that.”

Chaplin said that a participant with long-term brain fog from COVID-19 gained brain clarity by participating in SMART. Also, a participant with an autoimmune disorder said they felt less fatigued and more focused after going through the training.

SMART consists of brief courses, videos, short answers, quizzes and readings. The courses include sections on strategic attention, integrated reasoning, innovation and creative thinking. The training also suggests ways to help your brain form healthy habits when dealing with stress and getting sleep.

“It’s been scientifically proven that if a participant does the work and uses the strategies they develop during their SMART training, it’s proactive in forming healthy behaviors when overcoming challenges and dealing with stress,” Chaplin said.

Matthew Goodykoontz White, a student and previous intern at CBH, said the BrainHealth Index has been beneficial for participants with mental health issues.

“One of the proudest benefits the Center for BrainHealth provides to new participants is that the BrainHealth Index has proven to be 60% more effective in treating depression than therapy and medication combined,” White said.

Currently, CBH is working towards an in-person version of the BrainHealth Project which will include participants from ages 18 to 40 and an fMRI before and after the study. Potential participants can sign up to participate on the CBH website.

“For our next version of this study, the data found will enable researchers to draw more conclusions about how this kind of brain training can promote growth in brain function,” said Chaplin.

With this study, Chapman is hoping to have a more complete understanding of the human brain and wants to facilitate further research in brain optimization.

“Dr. Chapman is optimistic about the potential for people to recover from conditions and injuries that we’ve historically had trouble recovering from,” Chaplin said.