This week is Brain Awareness Week, a time dedicated to increasing public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.

Recently, there seems to be an ocean of wearables and apps aimed at tracking our physical fitness, but what about our mental fitness? Brain health and research are becoming increasingly important as more people, families and communities are affected. The Alzheimer Society of Canada reported that one in three Canadians will be affected by a disease, disorder or injury to the brain, spinal cord or nervous system at some point in their lives. Data and insights can be incredibly valuable to doctors when it comes to brain health and online tests might be the solution.

Measure your memory with a brain “thermometer”

Baycrest, a Toronto-based academic health sciences centre that is developing and providing innovations in aging and brain health, founded Cogniciti in 2010 in partnership with MaRS. Cogniciti has created a clinically validated test that is described as a “thermometer” for memory health. Just as a thermometer can detect fever, encouraging its user to seek medical attention, Cogniciti’s test assesses memory, encouraging its user, when necessary, to do the same. The test is an early-warning indicator, not a diagnostic tool.

When users begin the test they are offered the opportunity to be automatically reminded to take the test again after a specified length of time, such as a year. This small reminder can be incredibly powerful. Regular testing with a standardized and validated test will prove invaluable for tracking any worrisome declines in memory performance over the years. For example, a user’s test history or change in performance has the potential to sound an alarm for them, acting as a wakeup call.

Bring your data to the doctor’s office

The goal is to help users determine if they are above or below the normal threshold for their age. If they fall below the threshold, the test provides them with a personalized report that will help them start the conversation about their brain health with their personal doctor.

The company’s news release states: “Our aim with the brain health test is to reassure the worried well and nudge that small percentage of people who do have serious memory issues to discuss their concerns with a doctor.”

marsblog-cogniciti-screen
The test produces a report that includes a science-based brain health score and a personalized plan for next steps

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, close to half of Canadians with dementia wait too long for a diagnosis, after which treatments may not be as effective. These early detection tests are becoming more critical as the number of people suffering from brain conditions like dementia are increasing. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has also predicted that the global prevalence of dementia will continue to double every 20 years. In 2013, the number of people suffering with dementia globally was estimated to be 44.4 million. This number is expected to increase to 135.5 million by 2050.

Be proactive about your brain health

Tests help give a valuable snapshot of an individual’s brain health. They help us to learn more about personal health, while also encouraging larger systems to research preventative measures that can be used to help acquire and preserve our brain health. The brain is just like any other muscle in the human body, it needs to be exercised.

An interesting way to be take control of your brain health is by using music. According to a new Canadian study led by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20% faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers on speech identification tests, a benefit that has already been observed in young people with musical training.

Didn’t play the piano growing up? Don’t panic. Here are some additional tips for how to improve your brain health.

  • Stay physically active.
  • Stay mentally and socially active.
  • Visit your doctor regularly.
  • Seek professional assistance to address anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.

Note: MaRS holds a minority equity position in Cogniciti. Photo credit: Brain by Dierk Schaefer under CC BY 2.0

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Sarah Aspler

Sarah Aspler was a Communications Assistant at MaRS. Sarah recently graduated with a bachelor of technology from Ryerson University in Toronto. See more…