The year 2013 is an exciting time to have a brain. Over the past two decades, our underￂﾭstandￂﾭing of the human brain has grown exponentially. Fueled by this new inforￂﾭmaￂﾭtion, the numￂﾭber and variￂﾭety of brain appliￂﾭcaￂﾭtions availￂﾭable comￂﾭmerￂﾭcially is explodￂﾭing, potenￂﾭtially transￂﾭformￂﾭing the way we care for our brains across our entire lifespan.
Havￂﾭing a brain is not a medￂﾭical conￂﾭdiￂﾭtion, yet in pracￂﾭtice that seems to be our unspoken assumption. The truly revￂﾭoￂﾭluￂﾭtionￂﾭary and often untold story these days is about the tools becomￂﾭing availￂﾭable to conￂﾭsumers to take betￂﾭter care of their own brain health and perￂﾭforￂﾭmance, thanks to new digￂﾭiￂﾭtal platￂﾭforms that can access large quanￂﾭtiￂﾭties of data. This trend can take brain health (and health overￂﾭall) to a whole new level, away from its traￂﾭdiￂﾭtional overemￂﾭphaￂﾭsis on a conￂﾭstelￂﾭlaￂﾭtion of medￂﾭical conￂﾭdiￂﾭtions, pharￂﾭmaￂﾭcoￂﾭlogￂﾭiￂﾭcal interￂﾭvenￂﾭtions and small clinￂﾭiￂﾭcal trials.
While neuￂﾭroￂﾭlogￂﾭiￂﾭcal and psyￂﾭchoￂﾭlogￂﾭiￂﾭcal conￂﾭdiￂﾭtions take a terￂﾭriￂﾭble toll on sociￂﾭety, from ADHD to depresￂﾭsion and Alzheimer's disￂﾭease, it is time for a new parￂﾭaￂﾭdigm that doesn't address each of them in isoￂﾭlaￂﾭtion. True brain health requires preￂﾭservￂﾭing and enhancￂﾭing a variￂﾭety of cogￂﾭniￂﾭtive, emoￂﾭtional and execￂﾭuￂﾭtive funcￂﾭtionￂﾭalￂﾭity, going far beyond the absence of disￂﾭease. A holisￂﾭtic brain health approach, addiￂﾭtionￂﾭally, would serve as the best way to delay, if not preￂﾭvent, the neuￂﾭroￂﾭlogￂﾭiￂﾭcal and psyￂﾭchoￂﾭlogￂﾭiￂﾭcal conￂﾭdiￂﾭtions menￂﾭtioned above.
This opporￂﾭtuￂﾭnity is becomￂﾭing true thanks to a nascent culￂﾭtural shift. Preￂﾭviￂﾭously a pasￂﾭsive party in the health ￂﾭcare process, conￂﾭsumers are assumￂﾭing a more active role. Accordￂﾭing to SharpￂﾭBrains' 2013 marￂﾭket report, conￂﾭsumers have surￂﾭpassed health care and insurￂﾭance providers to become the driￂﾭving force behind brain health innoￂﾭvaￂﾭtion. We are seeￂﾭing an increased awareￂﾭness makￂﾭing brain health and fitￂﾭness a priￂﾭorￂﾭity for sociￂﾭety at large, not just those affected by parￂﾭticￂﾭuￂﾭlar disￂﾭorￂﾭders. For examￂﾭple, adults of all ages are takￂﾭing proacￂﾭtive care of their "brain fitￂﾭness," and employￂﾭers are investￂﾭing in corￂﾭpoￂﾭrate wellￂﾭness iniￂﾭtiaￂﾭtives that tarￂﾭget both body and brain, in an effort to increase the resilience and perￂﾭforￂﾭmance of their leadￂﾭers and whole workforce.
And conￂﾭsider the broader trends highￂﾭlightￂﾭing the imporￂﾭtance of physￂﾭiￂﾭcal fitￂﾭness and empowering conￂﾭsumers and patients to take care of their own health. What can be more imporￂﾭtant in takￂﾭing care of one's body than takￂﾭing care of one's brain? Since we don't see this cruￂﾭcial organ in the mirￂﾭror, it's all too easy to forￂﾭget those bilￂﾭlions of neuￂﾭrons and conￂﾭnecￂﾭtions. But the research picￂﾭture is increasￂﾭingly clear... what we do, every sinￂﾭgle day, has an impact on our brain health. For betￂﾭter or worse, our choices and behavￂﾭiors impact our life-long brain developￂﾭment, and the way we treat our brain today will affect our overￂﾭall health and qualￂﾭity of life years from now.
Empowￂﾭerￂﾭing everyￂﾭone with a brain to optiￂﾭmize that brain will require wideￂﾭspread access to valￂﾭiￂﾭdated assessￂﾭments and interￂﾭvenￂﾭtions as well as a well-informed underￂﾭstandￂﾭing of how to navￂﾭiￂﾭgate and use them. We are still early in this process, but we should be aware that accelￂﾭerￂﾭatￂﾭing innoￂﾭvaￂﾭtion is poised to enable sysￂﾭtemￂﾭatic brain health self-monitoring and self-care, in turn transￂﾭforming what it means to live healthy and fulￂﾭfillￂﾭing lives. The proￂﾭlifￂﾭerￂﾭaￂﾭtion of inexￂﾭpenￂﾭsive, data-rich techￂﾭnoloￂﾭgies means more indiￂﾭvidￂﾭuￂﾭals will start to meaￂﾭsure and track menￂﾭtal funcￂﾭtions over time, gainￂﾭing insights into brain changes, and betￂﾭter guidￂﾭing self-care efforts. This also means that health providers will face new opporￂﾭtuￂﾭniￂﾭties, and challenges.
It is excitￂﾭing to imagￂﾭine the posￂﾭsiￂﾭbilￂﾭiￂﾭties at the interￂﾭsecￂﾭtion of brain health, digￂﾭiￂﾭtal gealth and big data, but getￂﾭting there requires addressￂﾭing immeￂﾭdiￂﾭate quesￂﾭtions conￂﾭfronting us today:
- How can we harￂﾭness large new brain research iniￂﾭtiaￂﾭtives to maxￂﾭiￂﾭmize their future health and well-being benefits?
- How can orgaￂﾭniￂﾭzaￂﾭtions maxￂﾭiￂﾭmize the resilience and proￂﾭducￂﾭtivￂﾭity of their human resources?
- What is the future of perￂﾭsonal brain health, and how can big data help upgrade brain care?
- How can pracￂﾭtiￂﾭtionￂﾭers inteￂﾭgrate emergￂﾭing neuroplasticity-based interￂﾭvenￂﾭtions with existￂﾭing stanￂﾭdards of care?
- What are future conￂﾭsumer appliￂﾭcaￂﾭtions of bio-sensing neurotechnology?
These are preￂﾭcisely the type of quesￂﾭtions that over 100 pioￂﾭneers at the fronￂﾭtier of brain health and digￂﾭiￂﾭtal innoￂﾭvaￂﾭtion will be disￂﾭcussing later this week at the 2013 SharpￂﾭBrains Virￂﾭtual Sumￂﾭmit (Sepￂﾭt. 19-20), chaired by eight trailblazers named Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, bringￂﾭing together diverse perￂﾭspecￂﾭtives from the worlds of sciￂﾭence, mediￂﾭcine, techￂﾭnolￂﾭogy, and busiￂﾭness to pool efforts across traￂﾭdiￂﾭtional silos.
While there is much we still do not know about our brains, we do know that the staￂﾭtus quo is not an option. It is leavￂﾭing us woeￂﾭfully unpreￂﾭpared to meet curￂﾭrent and future demands. We also know that whatￂﾭever unfolds will inevitably impact each and every one of us on a very intiￂﾭmate level. You can't get any more perￂﾭsonal than your own brain. Thus, it really is up to all of us to parￂﾭticￂﾭiￂﾭpate in this growￂﾭing transￂﾭforￂﾭmaￂﾭtion as indiￂﾭvidￂﾭuￂﾭals and proￂﾭfesￂﾭsionￂﾭals. After all, what betￂﾭter way to improve our brains than to underￂﾭstand and apply the latￂﾭest sciￂﾭence and techￂﾭnolￂﾭogy to enhance our orgaￂﾭniￂﾭzaￂﾭtions and ourselves?
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