Report encourages communities to collaborate to improve brain health

People around the world do not have the same access to health care to keep their brains healthy. AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health recently released a report that offers proactive steps to improve this brain health inequity. The authors discuss how communities, health care, governments and others can work together to create environments that bolster healthy minds.

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By Alzheimer's Prevention Bulletin

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias impact people all over the world. However, not everyone has the same access to health care and community support. This lack of brain health equity is the focus of the recently published report from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health. The Council emphasize the importance of universal access to programs and services that strengthen brain health for all people.

“The GCBH believes the approach to building better brain health for all must be holistic and coordinated, with contributions from the public and private sectors, faith-based institutions, and non-profit advocacy groups,” according to the report. “Working with and guided by the communities themselves, strategic relationships to promote brain health can be leveraged and expanded to achieve more productive collaboration.”

The GCBH is a years-long partnership with AARP. The independent group is made up of scientists, researchers, health professionals and policy experts from around the world focus on memory disorders and cognition.

Brain health is influenced by the physical world we live in. Social situations, education, access to health care, safety and the environment all impact our cognitive health. People living in urban environments typically have more access to health care, while underserved and minority communities often have more difficulties obtaining quality medical services.

Definition of brain health equity

GCBH defines brain health equity as “the fair and just opportunity to have a healthy mind through the course of life. All people should have this opportunity, which should not be undermined by systemic policies and practices, including population-wide factors that confer unfair disadvantages or advantages to some.”

There are many reasons for brain health disparities around the world.

  • A lack of quality data on brain health among different groups hinders understanding and decision-making among policymakers, health care providers, and individuals themselves.
  • Structural barriers have created and even rewarded inequities leading to disparities by socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity.
  • Policies and widespread practices have created barriers to brain health including residential segregation, low priority for mental health issues, immigration policies and lack of affordable health care.
  • Stigmas around mental health, cultural norms, and the willingness to seek help for cognitive problems can stifle needed access to care.

Addressing Brain Health Equity

The GCBH report emphasizes that all societies have a responsibility to optimize brain health in their communities. The GCBH report offer several categories of actions to address the disparity in brain health. Of utmost importance is the need to treat people in ways that honor and respect their individual cultures and beliefs. The Council includes the following suggestions:

  • Policymakers should understand how brain health and access to care impact all communities. They should promote the use of culturally appropriate cognitive screenings for older adults, fund research of brain health equity and recognize how the social environments in which people live can limit healthy lifestyles.
  • Health care providers should focus on each individual and address language barriers that can result in incorrect assessments of memory and thinking. They should prioritize brain health screening in their practices and learn what community resources are available for their patients.
  • While it is not up to individuals to fix the disparities that currently exist, there are still steps we can take on behalf of our own health and well-being. These include:
    • Find health care providers you can trust
    • Be an active participant in your health care by asking questions and expressing your concerns.
    • Make healthy choices whenever you can, understanding that lifestyle has an impact on brain health.
    •  Follow the Six Pillars of Brain Health – being social, using your brain, getting exercise, eating right, getting sufficient sleep and managing stress.  

In conclusion, failing to do so will only create more economic and social costs.

A successful approach to improving brain health must include many factors including medical and nonmedical approaches to prevention and care to counter unhealthy practices. Better brain health will allow people to live more rewarding lives and contribute meaningful ways to their families and communities.