A new position paper launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week presents a framework for understanding brain health and the importance of its optimisation. The paper demonstrates the relevance of optimising brain health within the broader context of public health and society and offers practical policy solutions and future directions for the field, including specific actions for addressing brain health determinants, ongoing priorities in brain health research, and operationalising and measuring brain health.
Brain health, according to a WHO release, can be defined as the state of brain functioning across cognitive, sensory, social-emotional, behavioral and motor domains, allowing a person to realise their full potential over their life course, irrespective of the presence or absence of disorders.
Many determinants are known to impact brain health and continuous interactions between these determinants plus an individual’s context lead to lifelong adaptation of brain structure and functioning. The position paper provides insight into the following clusters of determinants: physical health, healthy environments, safety and security, learning and social connection and access to quality services. Optimizing brain health by addressing these determinants leads to multiple benefits including lower rates of many chronic health conditions – neurological, mental, substance use and physical – as well as improved quality of life and multiple social and economic benefits, all of which contribute to greater well-being and help advance society. Brain health is an evolving concept, attracting increasing attention not only from the health sector but also from wider society, stimulating rich debate – and for good reasons.
It is estimated that one in three persons will develop a neurological disorder at some point in their life, making neurological disorders the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death.