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What is the Healthy Minds Initiative?

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By Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD

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More than 47 million people are living with Alzheimer's disease worldwide. Doctors predict more than half of adults will be diagnosed with the disease by age 85. Despite the terrifying statistics, the truth is 90% of Alzheimer's cases are preventable through lifestyle factors and the younger we begin, the better.

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The Healthy Minds Initiative is a nonprofit organization that exists to research, educate, and mobilize communities to demystify the steps to achieving long-term optimal brain health and the prevention of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

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Founded and led by neurologists Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, co-directors of the Alzheimer's Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center, they've found that through shifting several lifestyle factors with their NEURO plan, people can reduce and even eradicate the risk of cognitive decline.

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Typical brain research focuses on a single facet; for example, the interaction of a specific drug with brain cells. HMI's approach is multifaceted: exploring how a patient's genetics, epigenetics, environment, home, community, lifestyle, and diet all play into the development or prevention of these brain diseases. The Sherzais educate on these factors through their simple NEURO framework:

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N - Nourish : What we eat everyday creates and re-creates both our cells and their supporting structures. What we fail to eat causes deficiencies that stress and traumatize the body. Though the brain comprises only 2 percent of the body by weight, it uses up to 25 percent of the body's energy, and because food is energy, our brains are especially vulnerable to each nutritional choice we make.


E - Exercise: So many of us live lives void of movement. Many people don't know how to be active when the companies we work for, the cities we live in, and the many responsibilities of adulthood don't allow us to prioritize exercise. The good news is that exercise does not have to be a burden. It can be simple, and even enjoyable.


U - Unwind: Stress management is a critical and often misunderstood aspect of a brain healthy
lifestyle. Healthy stress is controlled and useful for achieving long term goals and navigating the challenges of modern living. Uncontrolled stress initiates a hormonal cascade that taxes the brain on many levels. Unwinding with activities like meditation, yoga, walking, reducing clutter in your environment, etc. is an important factor for optimal brain health.

R - Restorative Sleep: When we fail to get restorative sleep, our thinking and concentration suffer. The result is the "brain fog" that plagues so many of our patients with MCI and Alzheimer's. Lack of quality sleep impairs your ability to function during the day--your focus, processing speed, short term memory-- and also disrupts your circadian rhythm. The concept of "restore" goes well beyond a good night's rest to encompass healthy sleep patterns, pre-bedtime relaxation, managing light and noise in your environment, and making dietary choices that promote restorative sleep.


O - Optimize: Continuing to challenge our brain and keep it sharp by learning new information and involving ourselves in new activities helps build connections and create significant cognitive reserve. These activities are protective against disease. We educate people on many specific ideas for ongoing brain optimization.

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The problem of brain disease isn't just substantial - it's growing and is the biggest Tsunami facing our healthcare system.

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So, what can be done?

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Education is clearly the first step. Most people simply don't know how many of the cards they hold when it comes to their own brain health. It's understandable. The focus, for so long, has been on genetics and prescriptions.

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The Healthy Minds Initiative provides resources and education in communities across the United States by mobilizing local community leaders across all industries - government, civic, business, faith, and equipping them with resources to educate those in their communities with workshops in local barber shops, churches and community centers -- places where people naturally congregate, vs. clinics and medical facilities.

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HMI is already active in communities like Beach Cities, CA, Sedona, AZ, Honolulu, HI, and several others launching soon.
The more people we can educate, the better foothold we have on controlling the prevalence of these devastating diseases.
Who is most affected by brain disease?
● Nearly (50 percent) of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer's disease.
● More women have Alzheimer's than men; approximately two-thirds of Alzheimer's patients are women. The fact that women live longer most likely contributes to the greater prevalence, but there are other factors such as greater hormonal and vascular contribution that may also contribute.
● Alzheimer's is more prevalent in African-American and Hispanic/Latino populations than it is among white people.
● The number of new cases of Alzheimer's each year is expected to double by 2050.
While we continue to address other diseases and see the decline in prevalence and an increase in successful treatment, brain health is still a largely under addressed issue. Through education, research, and community mobilization, The Healthy Minds Initiative seeks to build healthier brains with the community, together.

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If you are interested in learning more about Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai and bringing Healthy Minds Initiative to your community, learn more at HealthyMindsInitiative.org.
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Together, we can make a difference. One brain at a time.

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Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD is trained in Neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, and completed fellowships in neurodegenerative diseases and dementia at the National Institutes of Health and UC San Diego. He also holds a PhD in Healthcare Leadership with a focus on community health from Andrews University.



 
 
 
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