Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
“The only constant about your brain is that it’s always changing.”
That is one of the key messages on the federal government’s new website, BrainHealth.gov, which is part of a massive public education campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living. The goal of the campaign is to educate people on the importance of maintaining a healthy brain.
The BrainHealth campaign wants the public to know that “change in brain function is to be expected as you age. Even after your brain reaches maturity, it’s still changing.”
Actress Marcia Gay Harden (“How to Get Away with Murder,” “Code Black”) is the public face of the campaign, using her celebrity status to call attention to the importance of brain health. But Harden’s involvement also has a personal side.
“My family discovered that my mother had Alzheimer’s over 10 years ago,” she shares in a video on the website. “And it was a shock. Because that happened to other people. That’s didn’t happen to my mom. That happened to someone else.”
But it did happen to her mom. Like so many other caregivers, Harden learned a valuable lesson from having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I will say one really important thing that my mother has taught us is to be in the moment.”
The website also talks about a concept called “brain plasticity,” the idea that our brains “grow new connections and replace broken ones” through our experiences with the world around us and in the process of learning new information. “As we age, our experiences and knowledge keep our brains working, developing and learning.”
The point is to keep learning and experiencing new things, as well as continue to do other things that you are already doing that help keep your mind and life active.
The website provides a lot of information about brain health and healthy aging, with a focus on the healthy part. But it also advises people to seek medical attention if there are concerns. When going to the doctor to discuss these concerns, be ready with information that could aid the doctor in better understanding your issues. Write them down before the visit. Things to discuss include any symptoms you may have that concern you (e.g., pain, fever, a lump, weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, etc.). How long has this been going on? When did it start? How is it affecting your life? Does anything you do make the symptoms better or worse?
Other tips include keeping an updated list of your medications for your doctor to review, including over-the-counter drugs (ones that don’t require a prescription) and herbal remedies and supplements. And, share helpful information about your life circumstances. Did you recently experience a death in the family or some other major event that might be affecting your well-being?
The website contains a lot of information about the brain in readable language meant for non-experts. It is like a one-stop shop for all things brain-related, gathered from a variety of reliable sources.
If you’re on Medicare, it also links to information on the Medicare website about preventive and wellness visits with your doctor, often covered by Medicare Part B. The “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit is an introductory visit available within the first 12 months that you start receiving Medicare Part B. It includes a review of your medical and social history, as well as information about preventive services. If you’ve passed this period of eligibility, there are yearly “Wellness” visits for those who have had Part B for longer than a year. Part of this visit includes filling out a “Health Risk Assessment” — questions that can help you and your doctor develop a personal plan to keep you as healthy as possible. More information can be found on Medicare.gov or from your Medicare handbook, Medicare & You 2016 (page 68), also available online at https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.