- December 18, 2019
(Help wanted: Famous person to act as spokesperson. Real famous. A household name. And preferably willing to work as a volunteer.)
So picture Mick Jagger doing a 30-second television spot. He walks into our view and points at us with his index finger.
"If you really want to rock your world," he says, "get a good night's sleep. It will make your brain happy."
Or perhaps Dick Vitale recreates his Geico commercial success. He waves his arms above his head and tells us, "If you want to be awesome, baby, make sure you exercise. Your brain will be a prime time player all your life."
How about a younger star? Imagine Nelly Korda, a 23-year-old dominating force on the LPGA Tour, doing a spot by saying, "If you put down the cigarettes, your brain will be able to tee off with the best for years to come."
Brain health researchers all over the country are coming together to educate the general public about how bad lifestyle choices affect brain health in a negative way. We're talking about some of the best medical and academic minds in the world who have accumulated research to show we can reduce our chance of contracting Alzheimer's disease and related dementias with a better lifestyle plan.
The brain health community, in joining forces, wants to quickly make the public understand that better brain health can be accomplished now, before years of further research tells us more. But leaders of that movement also understand they might not be best equipped to deliver the news.
Stephanie Peabody, the founder of the Brain Health Initiative, decided upon Lakewood Ranch as the home to her organization's effort to study brain health and to devise a plan for a healthier tomorrow. But, in a way, she also came to Lakewood Ranch knowing that she had to build an information bridge.
Peabody knows if researchers are successful in compiling helpful solutions and prevention information, but unsuccessful in connecting with the public, then the effort can slow down to a crawl. Successfully transmitting information also can lead to support — monetary or otherwise — that will be so important.
Successfully building that bridge has become a main focus with the news in December that the Florida Brain Health Consortium has been formed.
Also in the news, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Dec. 27 an update to the National Alzheimer's Plan. Basically the update is a goal to promote a healthy lifestyle and aging that will reduce risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
Peabody and the Brain Health Institute have been in the middle of the national push. UsAgainstAlzheimer's, a collaborative partner of the Brain Health Institute, and nearly 200 other groups pushed for national prevention goals last July.
Meetings are being scheduled now for all these groups to share their research and discuss ideas about how to inform the public.
I discussed the efforts last week with Peabody, Dr. Mike Jaffee, the vice chair of neurology at the University of Florida and director of the university's Brain Injury, Rehab & Neuroresilience Center, and Kelly O'Brien, the executive director of UsAgainstAlzheimer's.
I challenged the three of them in my best matter-of-fact tone, "Doesn't everyone know that less drinking, no smoking, more sleep, better diet, and regular exercise will lead to better brain health?"
It would seem like a "Dah, slap-your-forehead, here's-your-sign, no-brainer." Do we need all these groups to tell us something that is common sense for a third-grader?
Apparently we do.
All three said it's certainly not just common sense and/or unwillingness to change habits.
"Most people don't know the steps they can take," O'Brien said about making lifestyle changes that will build better brain health. "People think (deteriorating brain health) is inevitable."
Which brings us back to that information bridge.
Jaffee said it is imperative to make people aware of the research to date in an evolving field.
"It seems daunting to change habits," Jaffee said. "We have to engage communication and that issue is a high priority. We are forming partnerships that haven't existed. That can fast track us in our learning. Maybe we can develop a tool box we can share."
All three said that spreading the information about prevention as opposed to treatment is paramount.
"In the past, people get sick, go to the doctor, and expect the doctor to get them better," Jaffee said. "This is an evolution in paradigm. We need to learn from each other what is working in a community."
Peabody noted that it's going to take more than the three of them talking to the press. They have to find a way to make people take notice.
So I offer up Jagger, the Rolling Stones frontman, who has a connection to Lakewood Ranch since his ballet dancer girlfriend Melanie Hamrick purchased a home in the Lake Club. Then there's Lakewood Ranch's own Vitale, who is one of the most famous television sportscasters in history. Korda is a member and homeowner at the Concession. She has become an international superstar.
Push the research to the side for a moment, find a celebrity whose friends and family have been affected by Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Reduce everything to simple terms and move forward.
So I guess it's time to do my part.
If you're reading at home, sit up on the couch and say, "I am going to live a more brain-healthy life."
Ok, that's good. But that's just one person.
Can I get 1,000 people who read this to say, "I am going to live a more brain healthy life."
But seeing Vitale waving his arms and yelling "Awesome, baby!" is the very height of goofiness, and it works.
If you want to add your support, you can contact the Brain Health Initiative at BrainHealthInitiatve.org. And if you are famous, you should go to the website as well.
"We need a regional spokesperson who is a household name," Peabody said. "We have to get into everyone's listening and reading space."