Brain Awareness Week: A Time to Start Regular "Check-ups from the Neck up"

This week (March 12-18), we celebrate Brain Awareness Week (BAW), a global campaign launched by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to promote brain science advances and draw attention to public health issues related to the brain. The brain is arguably the most important organ in the human body—making BAW a vital opportunity for individuals to learn about and embrace lifelong brain-healthy habits. 

Brain function underlies every bodily action, from the most automatic processes, such as breathing, to the most complex, such as performing risky surgical procedures. It is constantly working, in wakefulness and when other organs are at rest. You might think of it as “the city that never sleeps,” with busy streets ceaselessly buzzing with activity.

Despite its importance, brain health does not command sufficient attention from scientists and practitioners. While there has been considerable progress in understanding the process of neurodegeneration, there are no cures available for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Furthermore, most primary care doctors fail to prioritize brain health, and instead focus on other causes of neurodegenerative symptoms. This means that brain health often goes ignored until a patient meets the criteria for dementia. At this point, brain-healthy behaviors, such as those highlighted by the ENRICH program, are not likely to have as profound an impact.

So how can we ever expect to live long, vibrant, brain-healthy lives? By incorporating brain health into our concept of overall health and wellness, and by seeking sound medical advice over the course of a lifespan.

Taking the first step is easier than you think. Our friends at WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s suggest a regular “check-up from the neck up” every time you get a regular physical – and we couldn’t agree more. Yearly physicals often exclude measures of neurological or cognitive functioning, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be checking in when we’re checking-up. Keeping brain health top of mind and raising the topic with your physician will potentially catch early signs of cognitive changes.

All of this begs the question: How can you jumpstart your “check-up from the neck up?” A great first step is a self-assessment cognitive screening tool called myMemCheck™, which was developed by the BCAT Research Center. myMemCheck™ was designed to provide you with specific information about your memory and cognitive functioning, arming you with all you need to start the conversation about brain health with your healthcare provider. It can be completed in as little or as much time as you like, at home or in a clinical setting. Validation studies suggest that it is highly predictive of memory and other cognitive problems.

Complete myMemCheck™ before every physical, or more often if you experience subjective cognitive changes or memory concerns. myMemCheck™ is not intended to replace formal testing but instead to help identify those who should receive a formal cognitive evaluation and treatment for possible mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

You can find myMemCheck™ here, along with more information on the brain-healthy behaviors encompassed by ENRICH: an all-in-one package that includes a brain health awareness effort, a cognitive assessment tool, a launching point for conversations with providers, and a guide to brain-healthy behaviors and cognitive exercises.

BAW shines a light on an extremely important public health issue, providing an essential platform for neuroscience researchers and health care professionals committed to providing the most comprehensive care. However, brain health awareness should extend far beyond the second week of March.

Now is the best time for you to start taking care of your brain, which ensures the rest of your body is working properly. With myMemCheck™ and ENRICH, make Brain Awareness Week the start of a lifelong commitment to the health of your most important organ.

Madeleine Boudreau