Where Brain Health Meets Digital Health and Big Data

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.
09/18/2013 12:15 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2013

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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