What is "Brain Health"?

Ensuring good health and wellness for American Indians and Alaska Natives across the lifespan is essential. Elders are respected members of the community, who hold valuable stories, traditional knowledge, and cultural values. 

Elders, family members, and the community may be concerned about changes in memory or cognition as elders age. Brain health refers to your thinking, understanding, processing, and memory abilities. It also can refer to the things you to do keep your brain healthy and active, like staying physically active and following a healthy diet. Brain health recognizes that “typical” aging differs from Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and emphasizes mind and body health.

Changes in Cognition and Aging(Credit: Dr. Anya Benitez, Medical University of South Carolina. Adapted from: http://www.mind.uci.edu/dementia/mild-cognitive-impairment/)

Why is brain health important for Indian Country?

American Indian and Alaska Native communities are expected to see an increase in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the next few decades due, in part, to an increased life span of Native peoples. These conditions are marked by persistent difficulties with memory, thinking, and completing every day activities like preparing food or sharing stories with loved ones. 

It is estimated that over the next 50 years the extent of Alzheimer’s and related dementias will increase. This will heighten the need for healthcare, services, and caregiving for elders. These conditions may also impact family members who often serve as caregivers to elders. Some people with health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, commercial tobacco use, or mid-life obesity may be at risk for poorer brain health. However, these health conditions can be treated or prevented. 

There are many actions elders, family members, community members, healthcare providers, and Tribal leaders can take to promote brain health. Learn more about how you can be a champion for brain health here.

What is NIHB doing to support brain health?

The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) advocates for health and wellness of Tribes across the life course. We do this through hosting events, developing timely communication and educational resources, and advocating for policies and programs that support Tribal health and wellness.

In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NIHB is hosting an action-oriented institute and other learning activities to increase awareness of brain health and relevant resources.

The Brain Health Action Institute for Tribal Nations will support Tribes and Tribal organizations in using the Healthy Brain Initiative Road Map for Indian Country to start conversations, as well as develop and plan strategies for improving brain health in their own communities.  The Road Map for Indian Country is the first-ever public health guide focused on dementia in American Indian/Alaska Native communities.

You can find more information about NIHB’s work and other brain health activities here.

This website and Action Institute are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $100,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.

Contact Us

To reach the NIHB, please contact [email protected]. For media inquiries, please contact Karrie Joseph ( [email protected] ).

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