This November, I am speaking at the Alzheimer’s Association North Central Texas Chapter’s Symposium on the relationship between health literacy and cognitive loss prevention. Since September 21st is World Alzheimer’s Day, I thought I would go ahead and share some of the research that will be the basis for my talk, “Healthy Body, Healthy Brain” because the time to start preventing cognitive decline is NOW.
The CDC and Alzheimer’s Association through a partnership called the Healthy Brain Initiative worked closely with the National Institute on Aging and the Administration on Aging to formulate the National Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health. Along with the need for further research and other initiatives, two of the 10 priority areas include health literacy:
o Disseminate the latest science to increase public understanding of cognitive health and to dispel common misconceptions.
o Help people understand the connection between risk and protective factors and cognitive health.
Both of these priorities require that the information be communicated in plain language and ways that are usable to the average American. Under the current health care plans, preventive (or protective) services such as yearly physicals and health screenings are provided for free. These preventive visits can help provide people with knowledge, tips and tools needed to maintain a healthy body that in turn, can help maintain a healthy brain.
Given the rapid aging of the U.S. population, increasing the use of preventive services by adults aged 50 or older is a key public health strategy. Despite the effectiveness of these potentially life-saving preventive services:
o Only 25% of adults aged 50 to 64 years are up to date on preventive services.
o Less than 50% of adults aged 65 years or older are up to date on these services.
The problem is limited health literacy.
o Many people do not understand preventive services and/or their insurance benefits and how to use the preventive care benefits.
o Many people do not have adequate nutrition literacy and health literacy skills to incorporate recommendations if they do seek preventive services.
o Additionally, prevention should start early in life. We should incorporate health literacy, health and wellness principles in K-12.
o Lastly, policy recommendations are lacking to ensure people receive health information they can understand and adhere to the recommendations.
Helping people access preventive care by using their health insurance should be the first step. The second step would include following current recommendations. Healthy People 2020 Guidelines on Preventive Services, Nutrition and Physical Activity and Healthy People 2020 Guidelines on Health Literacy provide the framework to facilitate optimal cognitive development and preservation through health literate practices.
In an article this past May, the Mayo Clinic discussed that overweight and Type II diabetes could exacerbate the tendency towards cognitive decline. They offered these recommendations that align with the Healthy People 2020 initiatives:
• Follow your health care team’s recommendations about the most appropriate plan for monitoring your blood glucose, cholesterol level and blood pressure.
• Eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat milk and cheese.
• If you’re overweight, eat a healthy diet and exercise to lose weight. Obesity can lead to diabetes and other health problems.
• Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
• Take any prescribed medications on schedule.
However, understanding how to practice these all together may need interpretation and facilitation through health literate care from providers such as registered dietitians, pharmacists, physical therapists, exercise specialists or community health workers. Helping people understand how to live a healthy lifestyle through small changes in their living circumstance will not only help prevent cognitive decline but also degenerative and chronic disease that exacerbates and contributes to this decline.