The Healthy Brain Initiative Focused on Research, Awareness of Cognitive Impairment
Have you heard of The Healthy Brain Initiative (THBI)? I hadn’t either, but was really interested in this effort, which is described in the report, The CDC Healthy Brain Initiative Progress 2006-2011.
THBI was established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of its Healthy Aging Program. This initiative, which was supported through appropriations by Congress in 2005, is the Alzheimer’s-specific portion of the Healthy Aging Program. As part of THBI, the CDC worked with a group of partners including the Alzheimer’s Association, National Institute on Aging, Administration on Aging, AARP, and private and public organizations to examine how cognitive health is promoted and protected and to identify knowledge gaps, and to identify ways that public health can contribute to this effort.
First, let’s define what we’re talking about when we're talking about cognitive health. “Although standardized, widely accepted definitions of cognitive health have yet to be adopted, most experts agree that the components of healthy cognitive functioning include: language, thought, memory, executive function (the ability to plan and carry out tasks), judgment, attention, perception, remembered skills such as driving, and the ability to live a purposeful life,” the report’s authors wrote.
THBI identified 10 priority actions for improving cognitive health, the first eight of which are priorities. These actions include:
- Developing a system to be able to measure the public health burden in the United States caused by cognitive impairment.
- Engage public officials through initiating federal, state and local policy changes to promote cognitive health.
- Learn how cognitive health is understood by diverse audiences, and whether they understand the association to lifestyle factors.
- Communicate the latest science so that the public understanding of cognitive health increases.
- Help people understand that there is a connection between risk factors, protective factors and cognitive health.
- Review the literature to determine proposed risk factors as well as related interventions to identify the relationship with cognitive health.
- Conduct research on areas such as nutrition, mental activity and social engagement that potentially affect cognitive health.
- Conduct controlled clinical trials to evaluate the effect of reducing risk factors of cognitive decline and improving cognitive function.
- Conduct controlled clinical trials to evaluate the impact of physical activity on reducing the risk of cognitive decline and enhancing cognitive function.
Thus far, the THBI has made important progress toward the prioritized actions. For instance, The CDC has developed a new Impact of Cognitive Impairment Module. This module is an optional component in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is a state-based telephone survey of non-institutionalized adults. This module gathers information about individuals with cognitive impairment; the effect of cognitive impairment on activities both in and outside of the home; assistance and caregiving; healthcare-seeking behaviors and treatments; and the total number of people affected by cognitive impairment by household. “States have used the Impact of Cognitive Impairment Module to better understand how cognitive impairment impacts their residents, families, and communities,” the report’s authors wrote. “The information generated places them in a better position to evaluate the impact of cognitive impairment within communities and regions of their state and assists them in developing strategies to address the impact of cognitive impairment. The information can also serve as a vehicle to inform community coalitions, identify calls to action, and educate the public, policy makers, and health professionals about cognitive impairment. In addition, this state-level information can be used by state units on aging, area agencies on aging, and organizations that support older adults, persons with disabilities, or caregivers.”
In another effort, the Healthy Aging Program worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to develop and evaluate the U.S.’s first community level demonstration project that was designed to be culturally relevant to African American baby boomers. This demonstration project was designed to increase this community’s awareness of cognitive health, urging increased physical activity, and promoting prevention and management of vascular risks.
It’s reassuring to know that policymakers are using research to understand what is happening at the local and state level and then developing targeted assistance to help those affected by cognitive impairment. Hopefully, the work that will soon start as a result of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act will complement the CDC’s effort to create more awareness, understanding and research in order to assist people with these diseases and their caregivers as well as other community members who are affected.