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In our fast-paced lives, it is easy to overlook the importance of optimal brain health, especially when the impacts of cognitive decline may seem distant. However, investing in brain health can significantly benefit your present and future well-being. Maintaining a healthy brain is vital for our overall well-being and longevity, influencing both our physical and mental health, at all ages.

This article serves as an introduction to the fundamentals of brain health, laying the groundwork for actionable steps you can take to protect and optimize your cognitive function, which are discussed in an upcoming article. We will also explore the connection between brain health and preventing chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia. While these two conditions are often associated with aging, it is important to understand that brain health is relevant at any stage of life.

By making lifestyle changes and taking proactive measures, we can both optimize and protect our brain health and reduce the chances of cognitive decline – taking us one step closer to NEM’s vision of creating a world where all people live longer without age-related disease. 

Why is brain health important at any age?

Maintaining a healthy brain is essential to overall well-being and longevity because it impacts physical and mental health, productivity, and creativity (1). A body is not healthy if the brain is not healthy. Different factors, including physical exercise, diet, and social and intellectual engagement, influence optimal brain performance (2). Understanding these influences is crucial because more and more people are experiencing brain-related conditions and there is a need for preventative measures (3). 

Maintaining optimal brain health is more than preventing AD or dementia in later years. Even in early adulthood, impaired brain health can manifest as memory loss, cognitive decline, and difficulty with focus and concentration (4). Factors like stress, poor sleep, and environmental influences can contribute to these issues, highlighting the importance of prioritizing brain health from a young age.

In recent years, dementia has become a growing concern worldwide (5). AD is the most common form of dementia (5). While age remains the biggest risk factor, there is encouraging news—35%–40% of these cases might be preventable (5). Lifestyle factors, including diet and physical activity, could play a significant role in potentially delaying and preventing the advancement of AD.

35% – 40% of Alzheimer’s cases might be preventable  

Why is age the biggest risk factor for dementia? 

The primary risk factor for dementia is the natural process of aging. As individuals grow older, their likelihood of developing dementia increases significantly. For those in the age range of 65 to 69, approximately 2 % of people are affected by dementia (7). The risk steadily increases with age, roughly doubling every five years. As a result, around 33 % of those aged over 90 experience dementia. Aging poses a risk for dementia because the conditions leading to dementia, such as AD or vascular disease, need a long time to damage the brain long enough to cause symptoms. Therefore, the longer a person lives, the greater the opportunity for dementia to develop.

It is also important to understand that dementia is NOT a natural part of aging but a disease. This distinction is essential because it emphasizes that dementia is not an inevitable consequence of aging, but rather a medical condition that can be influenced by various factors. By recognizing dementia as a disease, we can better understand the importance of preventive measures and early intervention in managing its impact.

Some things make a person more susceptible to developing the disease (risk factors). While there are risk factors that an individual cannot control (such as their age, genes, ethnicity, sex, and environment), there are many things that can be controlled, called modifiable risk factors. 

Dementia is not a natural part of aging but a disease. It is a medical condition that potentially could be prevented by understanding the risk factors and early interventions.  

What is an optimal healthy brain?

The brain is a complex organ, and defining brain health has been challenging and a topic of considerable debate even today (8). 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), brain health is not just about avoiding illness; it is about how well the brain functions in different aspects of life (4). These aspects include how one thinks, perceives the world, handles emotions, interacts with others, behaves, and moves.

Optimizing brain health means working to improve how the brain operates across all these areas. It is about finding ways to help the brain adapt and perform at its best throughout life, not only when one gets older.

Achieving optimized brain health involves addressing factors like physical health, safe environments, lifelong learning, and social connections (4). These factors influence how the brain develops and copes with challenges. By focusing on these aspects, people can maintain good brain health and reduce the risk of disorders over time.

However, issues affecting brain development or function can arise at any stage of life, not only in later stages, potentially leading to different neurological issues (4). Effective care for these conditions requires collaboration across different fields, focusing on prevention, treatment, and support. 

Taking a proactive approach

Prioritizing brain health is crucial for individuals of all ages. By understanding the factors influencing brain health and taking proactive steps to optimize cognitive function, people can enhance their overall well-being and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like AD and dementia.

It is important to note that AD is not an inevitable consequence of aging; it is a chronic disease that can be influenced by various factors. However, there is not a widely accepted method for identifying risk factors through biomarker testing in healthy individuals under 65 in Sweden. We think that it is of utmost importance to prevent chronic diseases and target individuals earlier. 

At NEM, we prioritize proactive approaches to brain health and the prevention of chronic diseases. We use various objective biomarkers such as blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, along with information from genetic tests, sleep patterns tracked by wearables, and health questionnaires. This comprehensive approach allows us to track trends over time instead of just focusing on single measurements and whether they fall within a normal range, as traditional healthcare typically does. These biomarkers, together with others included in our NEM 360 offering, are traditionally associated with other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic health. However, they can also offer insights into the risk factors for AD. We then strive to provide practical insights and personalized strategies for mitigating risk factors and promoting brain health now and in the future. Finally, it is not just about being disease-free but about maximizing brain function in all areas, including thinking, moving, and emotional well-being. 

Silviya Demerzhan, Ph.D.

Chief Scientific Officer, Nordic Executive Medicine
Medical review by: Dr. Mahir Vazda MD



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