Brain health and disease

Neurodegenerative brain diseases are becoming more common as people live longer but they are not an inevitable consequence of normal ageing. They adversely affect individuals and their families, as well as healthcare providers and employers, through impacts on health-related quality of life, capacity for independent living, decreased or lost productivity and long-term healthcare requirements. You can read more about these issues and find supporting references in 'Time matters: a call to prioritize brain health'.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD) are currently the focus of Think Brain Health because they are the two most common neurodegenerative brain diseases.

Deterioration in the structure or loss of function of nerve cells (i.e. neurodegeneration) begins many years before disease symptoms appear, and it may take years for an at-risk individual to reach a stage when a clinical diagnosis can be made.

  • There is a 10–20-year ‘window of opportunity’ in midlife to intervene in the disease course and potentially to reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative disease and/or delay disease progression.
  • Modifiable risk factors account for about one-third of the overall risk of developing dementia, and the World Health Organization has highlighted several lifestyle areas for action.

Think Brain Health therefore advocates an educational public health campaign to raise awareness about the need to protect brain health through primary prevention strategies. For example, encouraging behaviours at all ages that help to improve brain health, such as healthy eating and taking adequate exercise. This approach has proved effective in improving cardiovascular health.

Think Brain Health also recommends specific areas for research to make use of existing knowledge and prepare for future advances in brain health management.

  • Identify the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of interventions to promote brain health.
  • Understand the extent to which an individual’s awareness that they have strong risk factors for a neurodegenerative disease may motivate them to change their behaviour, and how best to support that behaviour change.