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Healthy Brain Initiative

The role of public health in enhancing the physical health of older adults is well-known. Public health's role in maintaining cognitive health, a vital part of healthy aging and quality of life, is emerging. The need for a clearly delineated public health role comes at a critical time given the dramatic aging of the U.S. population, scientific advancements in knowledge about risk behaviors (e.g., lack of physical activity, uncontrolled high blood pressure) related to cognitive decline, and the growing awareness of the significant health, social, and economic burdens associated with cognitive decline. The Healthy Brain Initiative is a multifaceted approach to cognitive health that includes the following:

The lack of cognitive health—from mild cognitive decline to dementia—can have profound implications for an individual’s health and well-being. Older adults and others experiencing cognitive decline may be unable to care for themselves or conduct necessary activities of daily living, such as meal preparation and money management. Limitations with the ability to effectively manage medications and existing medical conditions are particular concerns when an individual is experiencing cognitive decline or dementia. If cognitive decline can be prevented or better treated, lives of many older adults can be improved.

Opportunities for maintaining cognitive health are growing as public health professionals gain a better understanding of cognitive decline risk factors. The public health community should embrace cognitive health as a priority, invest in its promotion, and enhance our ability to move scientific discoveries rapidly into public health practice.

Cognition is a combination of mental processes that includes the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering. When cognition is impaired (referred to as cognitive impairment), a person has trouble with these processes that begins to affect the things he or she can do in everyday life. People of all ages can experience cognitive impairment, which can range from mild to severe. Cognitive impairment is not caused by any one disease or condition. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injury can cause cognitive impairment. Some causes of cognitive impairment are related to treatable health issues (e.g., medication side effects, vitamin B12 deficiency, and depression).