World Alzheimer’s Day has a special urgency this year.
For many people affected by the isolation and disruptions of COVID-19, the impact of changes in sleep, diet, exercise, social contact and mental engagement on their cognitive state is both surprising and concerning. The “brain fog” that so many people have described has also been a wake-up call (even if a groggy one), as they search to discover why they feel this way and what they can do to help lift themselves back to clearer skies.
Perhaps, if there’s anything to be learned from the stress of the coronavirus it’s this: Maintaining our cognitive health requires the same awareness and behaviors as maintaining our physical health. It raises the question, what can you do to stimulate your cognitive health in the time of COVID-19?
Something’s Got to Give
When both my grandparents died of Alzheimer’s several years apart, I felt like medical science had failed them. I come from a family of physicians, so I know firsthand what healthcare means to people. My grandparents had access to the best medical centers and doctors, but it didn’t matter. The testing for Alzheimer’s was laborious and came too late in their illnesses, and the treatment consisted of drugs that weren’t effective. More-than-a-decade passed between their diagnoses and deaths, and there seemed to be no medical progress.
How could technology enable early awareness, detection, and action so that people could take control of their cognitive health before it controlled them?
But about 10 years ago, I, along with researchers and clinicians who were also frustrated by the fact that Alzheimer’s, with no cure in sight, had become the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, started looking at different ways to assess, diagnose and treat cognitive health. The old way had never worked and it wasn’t changing. It was stuck in the mode of trying to address the symptom instead of the cause. We began thinking about how technology — which was being used successfully to detect, reduce and even prevent major-organ conditions like heart disease and diabetes through regular testing and lifestyle intervention — could be used to change the approach to early cognitive assessment and intervention.
How could technology enable early awareness, detection, and action so that people could take control of their cognitive health before it controlled them? What could my grandparents have done in the years before their diagnoses that could have changed the outcome of their brain health?
Digital Brain Check-Ups and Healthy Habits
Fear has a way of inspiring action.
Since that time, there have been crucial breakthroughs around the two pillars of testing and behavior that can help people take control of their cognitive health the way they do for their physical health.
At Neurotrack, we developed a Cognitive Health Program that allows you to assess your cognitive health conveniently and accurately, from your home, using the camera on any smart device. A simple set of tests, totalling fifteen-minutes will determine your level of cognitive strength. Eye-tracking technology is behind the lens, and it captures the brain processing behind your eyes. There’s no prep or travel or specialized equipment required. And it doesn’t hurt. Since cognitive health changes gradually, the eye-tracking test can be taken as regularly as you like, measuring your health over time. At the risk of TMI, I had a colonoscopy last week, a necessary but incommodious and lousy experience. I’d take 15 minutes in front of a screen any time.
Assess your cognitive health conveniently and accurately, from your home, using the camera on any smart device.
The second breakthrough came with the 2015 findings of the FINGER protocol, which was the first study to document how Alzheimer’s can be prevented by changes in lifestyle behaviors — many of the same behaviors that are affecting your mental state during the pandemic. All of those lifestyle factors that have an effect on your physical health also impact your cognitive health. When we talk about “treating the whole person,” this is what we mean.
Launching the Brain Health Library
Given what we now understand about clinically-validated ways to improve cognitive health, sharing that information with people is the imperative next step.
The science increasingly shows that making changes to one’s lifestyle may delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
I’m excited to announce the launch of Neurotrack’s Brain Health Library, our online resource cultivated to share the science and experience we’ve helped develop since our founding in 2012.
Our library’s content covers eight topical lifestyle-related categories including:
- Cognitive Science
- Cognitive Training
- Social Engagement
- Stress Management
- Building Habits
These specific lifestyle areas are not only linked to brain health but are considered modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s. The science increasingly shows that making changes to one’s lifestyle, like following the MIND diet or regularly connecting with others, may delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
These are difficult times. What better way to commemorate World Azheimer’s Day 2020 than by making a commitment to building healthy habits for your cognitive health and the health of your loved ones.