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Why Prioritize Brain Health?

As we age, we often focus on our hearts and bowels but tend to neglect our brains. According to vascular neurologist Dr. Natalia Rost, associate director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, this is rather ironic considering that “there is no us without our brains.” The American Academy of Neurology is hoping to change that mindset by promoting a brain health revolution aimed at incorporating well-brain checkups into our preventive care routines from an early age.

The Healthy Brain Train Initiative

The goal of the brain health revolution is clear: By 2050, everyone should prioritize their cognitive well-being as much as their physical health. To achieve this, yearly “well-brain” checkups focusing on early prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s will be introduced for patients of all ages. Ideally, these checkups would be covered by insurance, starting with mothers-to-be and following a child through adolescence and beyond.

Potential interventions might include:

  • Encouraging mothers-to-be to breastfeed as long as possible
  • Promoting physical activity in children
  • Improving nutrition habits throughout life

Maintaining Brain Health Even with Cognitive Diseases

These well-brain exams are essential even for those who eventually develop cognitive diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. As Dr. Rost highlights, optimal brain health can still be achieved while living with these disorders, ensuring better quality of life for the affected individuals.

A Glimpse into the Current State-of-the-Art Brain Exams

Dr. Richard Isaacson, a preventive neurologist based in Boca Raton, Florida, opened one of the first brain health centers in the United States at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital New York City in 2013. He offers a comprehensive examination that can determine an individual’s risk factors for cognitive decline and suggest personalized areas for improvement.

Blood Tests to Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Biomarkers

This thorough assessment process starts with blood tests that detect hallmark biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative conditions. Over 46 million Americans have preclinical Alzheimer’s, which means the pathologic hallmarks of the disease are present before any evident cognitive decline. Understanding these early signs can help patients manage the risks and take preventive action when necessary.

Addressing Vascular Risk Factors

A crucial part of maintaining cognitive health is controlling vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. Dr. Isaacson emphasizes that while these may not directly cause Alzheimer’s, they can speed up the progression of the disease. Individuals who inherit specific gene variants also possess a greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s, integrating genetic information into any preventive strategy is crucial for the most effective outcomes.

Additional Factors: Bone Density, Body Composition, and Eye Health

Aside from blood tests, exams also assess bone density and body composition, determining risks for osteoporosis and related fractures or falls that could hinder a person’s ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle. Furthermore, a thorough eye examination not only checks for vision problems but provides insight into tiny vessels that reveal early nerve damage caused by diabetes, coronary artery disease, or other factors negatively impacting brain health.

As the brain health revolution gathers momentum, recognizing and managing risks factors for cognitive decline through regular well-brain exams will become a pivotal component in ensuring overall health for individuals of all ages. By carving out equal importance for our brains as we do for our hearts, we can work towards a future where healthy minds are given their rightful place on the wellness agenda.

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