In calling for a public health campaign to promote a brain-healthy lifestyle, an Oxford Health Policy Forum report says people in middle age have a 10- to 20-year window of opportunity to potentially reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s (PD), or to delay progression.
“The process of neurodegeneration begins many years before symptoms appear, and it may take years for an at-risk individual to progress through the presymptomatic and prodromal disease phases until a clinical diagnosis can be made,” the report’s executive summary said.
Called “Time Matters: A Call to Prioritize Brain Health,” the report condenses published evidence and the consensus findings of a group of international multidisciplinary experts. It’s meant to encourage individuals to prioritize their own brain health, and to challenge policymakers, scientists, medical professionals, and organizations that fund research and programs to collaborate in planning for healthcare structures.
Focusing on Parkinson’s as well as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the report summarizes key risk factors for both disorders, and discusses how lifestyle changes can improve brain health. It also explores challenges to the introduction of population screening-type programs — successful in some areas of medicine, including cancer — in neurodegenerative diseases, noting the potential for false positive test results that can cause undue anxiety.
To prepare for future scientific advances, the publication calls for continuing the search for effective diagnostic tools, biomarkers, therapeutic targets and treatments. In addition, it promotes “big data” as a way to help identify links between brain diseases and causative factors, which could advance drug target identification. The report also concludes that wearable technology could be increasingly useful in tracking disease courses and in personalized healthcare.
Because lifestyle changes have been shown to improve both cardiovascular and brain health, the report recommends wide public-health dissemination of the message, “What’s good for your heart is generally good for your brain.” And since healthcare professionals and administrators will continue to play key roles in disease management, they should make sure that individuals are referred to specialists and get follow-up care referrals that includes multidisciplinary services, holistic care, prevention information, and treatment options, the publication said.
The 47-page report also includes a host of research recommendations, including understanding that people’s awareness of their risks for neurodegenerative disease may motivate them to change behaviors. Researchers should also learn how best to support those changes, it said.
“We cannot change our genetic make-up, but we can help reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases ourselves by taking exercise, keeping socially active, eating healthily, reducing alcohol intake, stopping smoking and keeping our brains active,” Alastair Noyce, co-chair of the report’s author group, and a professor at Queen Mary University of London, said in a press release.
As people live longer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s are becoming more common — and presenting a growing socioeconomic burden. But such diseases are not an inevitable consequence of normal aging, said Gavin Giovannoni, author group chair and also a professor at Queen Mary.
“Planning for the healthcare structures of the future has to start now if we’re to avoid a crisis,” he said.
The report’s 10 primary writers are from the U.K., the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. It was funded through educational grants from biotechnology company Biogen and multinational healthcare company F. Hoffmann-La Roche.
The Oxford Health Policy Forum works to develop and support initiatives aimed at improving global public health, particularly in areas of unmet medical needs.