Brain health is a term gaining traction in the last few years. But what does brain health actually mean? Is it about mental health? Is it about neurology? Recently, in the context of Lundbeck’s #1VoiceSummit, an annual event gathering advocacy groups passionate about brain health, we asked this question to speakers and participants. This is what they had to say…
“Good brain health is a state in which every individual can realize their own abilities and optimize their cognitive, emotional, psychological and behavioral functioning to cope with life situations.… it encompasses neural development, plasticity, functioning, and recovery across the life course,” says the World Health Organisation [WHO].
This definition suggests that everyone should have brain health and should be taking actions to maintain it, such as ensuring healthy lifestyles (regular sleep patterns, physical activity, healthy eating, etc.) and by exercising the brain itself (e.g. by learning a new language or playing sudoku).
This definition also suggests that some of us will be impacted by a brain disease, whether a psychiatric disease, such as depression, schizophrenia, Post-Traumatic-Stress disease; or a neurological one, such as migraine, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. Prevention is therefore to brain health, what treatment and rehabilitation are to brain disease.
Most of the respondents at the #1VoiceSummit said they defined brain health as both mental health and wellbeing, and neurological health. Therefore, most were advocating for a holistic approach to what is included under the banner of “brain health”.
In addition, #1VoiceSummit participants also further defined what brain health means to them in some of the ways listed below…
- Brain health is at the core of life: it is essential to our survival and it is the basis of health in general. It is the health of our soul. It allows us to be at our best, to be able to cope with life, live to the fullest and to thrive. It is a part of our human rights!
- Brain health is about one’s capability to function daily: it is about brain function, cognitive function and mental function. It is to have quality of life and vitality. Brain health is about having the brain at its best: cognitively and physically.
- Brain health is about peace of mind: it is about feeling good; it is about wellbeing in thinking, in our emotions, in our mood and in our functioning; it’s about mental, physical and emotional wellness.
Agreeing on an all-encompassing definition of what brain health is, is the first milestone to ensure that the brain health community is empowered to advocate efficiently, with one voice, for the policy prioritization of brain health and of neuroscience.
By agreeing on a definition, we are able to identify what evidence we need to make a difference for a stronger narrative on the value of investing in brain health, brain disease and neuroscience.
The sceptics will fear that, by building a narrative amalgamating the numbers on brain-related burden or disability, we risk undermining specific-disease policy action and watering down appropriate funding. But, we would argue the opposite.
As policy-makers struggle to prioritize between diseases, it is our duty to empower them with the knowledge that brain disease actually impacts nearly half of the world’s population! They need to know that:
- Despite this global public health crisis, we still know too little about the most complex organ in the human body: on how we can keep it healthy, on how it becomes sick or how it can be treated.
- There may be a mismatch on the way regulators measure successful treatments or the way that innovation is rewarded Vs patient’s treatment outcome preferences.
- Current and future public health trends (from pandemic preparedness to an ageing population), require a boosting of our brain healthcare capacity alongside better equipped healthcare systems to address brain disease (in terms of access to brain specialists, access to personalized care and to personalized treatments).
- On the more positive side, that a population enjoying brain health, is at the core of establishing the brain capital necessary to lead their country to a brain health economy and a happy population!
All in all, we have a lot more to gain by working together and speaking with one voice, than by working in silos leading to a cacophonic policy narrative. Of course, it is not always easy to find common ground and to agree on a way forward.
It requires: Leadership. Collaboration. Persistence.
So that together, we can continue building a world where brain health and neuroscience is prioritized, so that every person can be their best, regardless of their diagnosis.