The American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the organization involved in promoting
high-quality neurologic care and assistance to neurologic health professionals,
recently released a
position statement on its goals for the brain health of all Americans by the year 2050. In
its report, the AAN provides a highlighted overview of its plan to help
people improve their brain health across the lifespan. They even devised
a new definition for brain health: a continuous state of attaining and
maintaining the optimal neurologic function that best supports one’s
physical, mental, and social well-being through every stage of life.
The AAN statement, published in a recent edition of
Neurology – the medical journal for the American Academy of Neurology –
explains that a healthy brain is critical to optimizing performance and
well-being for everyone at any stage of life. The statement says explicitly:
“We call on neurologists and other stakeholders in brain health
to use our collective efforts to accomplish our ultimate goal of reducing
the current trajectory of the incidence and burden of neurologic disorders—from
both illness and injury—while using a public health response for
achieving optimal brain health for all.”
Sure, it’s a lofty goal. But it’s also a position I applaud
and strive for in my clinical practice. As I have said repeatedly in both
media interviews and here on my blog – your brain can (and does,
when appropriately trained) make you better!
One of the most promising aspects of the AAN statement, which I wholeheartedly
support, is the concept of preventative neurology. Historically, a neurologist’s
job has been to fix a problem with something misfiring in the brain or
nervous system. While helping to address patients’ existing neurological
conditions is a necessary endeavor for any physician specialist, so too
is a focus on prevention. Especially as we find ourselves in a time in
our society when neurologic dysfunction and disease, as well as mental
illness, are on the rise, it is more important than ever to turn our eyes
toward preventive strategies that can help reverse these concerning trends.
I often say things like: “The best
migraine is the one you never get.” It might sound like a funny doctor-ism,
but it is rooted in a truth that I fervently believe – the brain
can be trained to optimize health, prevent disease, and, in some cases,
stop the progression of or reverse disease. Yes, it is THAT powerful.
Another crucial part of the AAN position statement is education for patients
and neurologic health providers. I am a huge proponent of
education as medicine. With decades of experience in neurologic care, I firmly believe that
education as an “intervention” is far more effective than
simply prescribing a medication, intervention, or surgery. In
my practice, I focus on making education a vital part of any treatment program I might
prescribe. I believe that a well-informed patient is a better patient.
Shared medical decision-making between provider and patient results in
better outcomes. I respect the effect that knowledge and insight have
on symptom severity, function, and quality of life for patients. Their
thoughts on the matter, well, they matter! The goal is for patients to
benefit from the highest level of sophistication regarding their diagnosis,
recommended interventions, and the rationale for those recommendations.
We, as a neurological health community of professionals, are stepping up
in big and small ways to help our communities begin to realize the benefits
of a focus on having healthy brains. I applaud the position statement
by the AAN and look forward to the year 2050 when all Americans are well
on their way to enjoying the kind of brain health that gives them happy,
healthy, and active lives for many years to come.