Creating an Optimal System of Care for Brain Health

April 29, 2019 - Kelly O'Brien

Creating an Optimal System of Care for Brain Health
We’ve defined the problem. Now it’s time to fix it.

By Kelly O’Brien
Executive Director, Brain Health Partnership

The results are in: There is growing consensus that we need to fundamentally change how we approach brain health in our nation and across the globe.

At UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, we’ve firmly established that Alzheimer’s disease is a growing epidemic and the defining health crisis of the 21st century. We called on President Trump to declare a state of emergency on Alzheimer’s during his 2019 State of the Union address, just as President Nixon did with cancer 48 years ago. We continue to meet with key government agencies and congressional leaders to demand a greater focus and increased funding for Alzheimer’s research. And today, we are calling on you to join us in our fight, with tangible steps you can take towards achieving proactive brain health across your lifespan.

The Brain Health Partnership, an initiative of UsA2, was launched in 2018 for a simple but critically important reason: to promote brain health though every stage of a person’s life. This April, we’re taking a big step toward our goal by releasing an important white paper, entitled “A Call for Action: Creating an Optimal System of Care for Brain Health in the United States.”

What exactly do we mean by an “optimal system of care”? Our vision is one in which people and providers understand the importance of brain health in relation to overall health and are proactive in taking steps to maximize our cognitive ability. This paper outlines a vision of what’s possible: a future system in which quality brain health services are widely available and regularly delivered to empowered people, patients, and providers. We pair this vision with concrete action steps we can take to make this future system a reality.

To achieve this, we must actively work to build cognitive resiliency. Proactive steps, such as demanding an annual cognitive check from a doctor, will help improve quality of life for all ages while easing financial pressure on an already overburdened healthcare system. We all have a critical role to play in creating an optimal system, and we can do more today to make brain health a part of overall health.

Our research and resulting findings crystalized into a framework for action. Below, we’ve provided tangible steps we can all work towards to develop a new ecosystem for brain health.

Action Area 1: Equip healthcare providers with solutions to support proactive brain health.

Providers and payers are not addressing the need for proactive brain health measures. This is due in part to knowledge gaps, but also to misaligned payment incentives. We have the opportunity to change this by making annual brain health check-ups a standard practice, just as we’ve done for teeth cleanings, mammograms, and screenings for heart health, like blood pressure and cholesterol checks.

Action Area 2: Create patient demand for brain health.

Individuals and families must be empowered with the knowledge that cognitive decline is not simply an inevitable result of old age. But unfortunately, our health system has failed to equip people and providers with the education, tools, and technology they need to be proactively brain healthy. When stepping into a doctor’s office, many patients feel unsure about what questions to ask to ensure their brain health is accounted for. Every person has the right to know what it takes to build cognitive resiliency and demand proper brain health checks from their healthcare provider. In addition, we must also leverage emerging technology and tools grounded in neuroscience that can help individuals take charge of their own brain health even when they aren’t at a visit with their provider.

Action Area 3: Align business incentives for payers and providers to promote brain health.

Policymakers are not prioritizing risk-reduction and disease prevention, nor are they preparing the health system for the impending care that will be required of an aging population. We also know that many opportunities exist for impactful change – including areas not historically addressed in the traditional health system. State partners, for example, serve as invaluable resources to promote the importance of prevention and early detection. Federal and state governments have a strong interest in reducing population dementia risk, and, through united action, individuals can impact decision-making through the dissemination of learning tools for best practices around brain health.

It’s time to provide a strong model for care to which people, patients and physicians can confidently refer. Creating a healthcare system that promotes and actively manages brain health will require all participants of the system joining together, including patients, providers, and payers. Together, we can be changemakers and establish the foundation for an optimal system of care that prioritizes proactive brain health every step of the way.

Read the full paper here.

About the Author


Kelly O'Brien

Executive Director, Brain Health Partnership