What is brain health? – Brain health is “a concept that involves making the most of the brain’s capacity and helping to reduce some risks that occur with aging. Brain health refers to the ability to draw on the strengths of the brain to remember, learn, play, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind.” - Alzheimer’s Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Brain Initiative, State and Local Public Health Partnerships to Address Dementia: The 2018-2023 Road Map. Chicago, IL: Alzheimer’s Association; 2018.
Researchers and clinicians are increasingly recognizing the ways in which brain health is linked to overall health, especially related to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in older adults. Chronic disease, brain health, dementia, and risk and protective factors are associated in many ways.
Because of this, health policy makers and practitioners are working to improve understanding of these connections and developing strategies to address risk factors, promote protective factors, and improve overall whole-person health. To that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed the Healthy Brain Initiative, which aims to promote understanding of brain health as an integral part of public health practice.
In 2020, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), through the Division of Aging and Adult Services and Division of Public Health, received funding from the CDC to advance brain health and address Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias through the Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for North Carolinians (BOLD NC) grant.
NC DHHS’s BOLD NC work focuses on risk reduction, early diagnosis, the prevention and management of comorbidities and avoidable hospitalizations using evidence-based strategies, data prioritization, and a social determinants of health approach to reach populations and caregivers most impacted by cognitive decline. NC DHHS prioritizes health equity and experiences of historically marginalized populations in advancing this work.
As part of the BOLD NC initiative, in 2021-2022, the NCIOM, in partnership with NC DHHS, undertook a stakeholder engagement process to align the overall visions of both BOLD NC and Dementia-Capable North Carolina. The NCIOM facilitated a series of four meetings to review a subset of 2016 Dementia-Capable NC recommendations and discuss new recommendations to address brain health.
Strategies from the CDC’s Healthy Brain Initiative Roadmap have been incorporated into the 2022 state plan update, with the aim of increasing the state plan’s focus on overall brain health and public health engagement with brain health over the course of the lifespan, as well as prioritizing health equity within the state plan.
The 2022 North Carolina Dementia-Capable Strategic Plan will be published in coming months.