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What is Brain Health?

A group of related backpackers smile look at a mobile phone while taking a selfie near a lake in a wilderness park. The group is a real multi-ethnic and multi-generation extended family of mature adults and teenage children. Wide angle view of the forest and pond in the background.

A New Era of Understanding

The concept is so new that as recently as 1999, the Center for BrainHealth® was able to trademark the term. Since that time, we have continued pioneering research to gain a fuller understanding – and its application for real-world benefit.

The Deficit Model Does Not Tell The Whole Story

A group of MRI brain scans.

Traditional thinking about brain health is rooted in the medical model. It focuses on disease, disorder and deficits.

BrainHealth researchers determined that interventions that helped populations with specific deficits also helped people with different deficits.

The same principles of the brain apply. Eventually, research led to the discovery that these interventions can even help healthy people strengthen their own brain health. Our research shows that better brain health helps people thrive within their personal life context.

BrainHealth Index: A 21st Century Metric

The BrainHealth Index introduces an actionable, holistic metric revealing brain fitness at an individual level. It eliminates the traditional distinctions of cognition, emotion, social and other functions based on a new understanding of the brain's cross-domain functionality.

The concept of IQ might have been useful 100 years ago when it was developed – when repetitive, assembly-line work was the norm and the ability to remember a lot of information was prized.

But this concept is limiting – today, complex skills such as adaptability, innovation, meaningful social connection, and deriving meaning from data are the strongest drivers of success; not to mention our ability to use computers and phones to store and retrieve almost infinite amounts of data.

So what is the “IQ test” for the 21st century?

BrainHealth researchers developed the BrainHealth Index: the world’s first multifaceted performance metric for the integrated, complex brain functions that are directed by the brain’s frontal networks.

Decline Is Not Inevitable

Graphic illustrating how the SMART protocol works to improve brain health and performance

Common thinking held that once the brain is fully developed in our mid-20s, the only change possible from then on is decline. Once science began to reveal the power of neuroplasticity in the late 1990s, researchers started exploring the extent to which the brain can grow stronger, adapt and work better during the entire lifespan.

At the Center for BrainHealth, cognitive neuroscientists teamed up with clinicians to translate these exciting scientific findings into real-world applications for people of all ages and circumstances.

It is now clear that brain fitness is just as achievable as physical fitness, and thus the SMART™ protocol was born.

Brain Health Builds on Multiple Domains

The components of brain health

It is still common to envision a healthy brain as a set of pillars – all equally important and seeming to function independently.

However, research demonstrates that the multiple components of the brain’s health are tightly integrated, and that cognitive fitness creates change across all the components.

Because cognition is the way we perceive and engage with the world, this component undergirds the others.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The BrainHealth Index is a proprietary assessment of overall brain performance. It is measured by a comprehensive set of scientifically robust measures of cognitive, emotional, social and real-life functioning.

As people have become more aware of the influence they hold over their own brain’s fitness and performance levels, brain games and apps have exploded in popularity. They might be fun, but what is really effective?

Recent research reveals that the brain changes in ways that cross domains AND are unique to each individual. A weakness in one area can be countered with strength in another, helping us thrive even in challenging circumstances by giving us more control over our lives than we might have realized. Ultimately, this understanding leads to a very personalized definition of brain health.