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Taking a Position on Brain Health


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.