What is the Brain Health Initiative (BHI)?
The Brain Health Initiative (BHI) is a cutting-edge, new approach to studying brain health that’s set to revolutionize neuroscience research and position the Gulf Coast as a global leader in scientific innovation.
Formed in 2018 and headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, the BHI features collaborative leadership from the Academy for Brain Health and Performance and Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital. Brain health clinicians, researchers, academics, and innovators from across the Harvard system and throughout the state of Florida, as well as national and global collaborators, are engaged in this collective impact effort to support significant positive brain health and performance outcomes for the greater Gulf Coast region and beyond.
Why do we need the BHI?
A healthy and optimally performing brain is about all of us across the lifespan and is essential for living a long and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, one out of three Americans will be affected by brain illness during the course of their lifetime. By 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that half of the worldwide economic impact of disability will be due specifically to brain-related disability.
Although human life expectancy has increased significantly in recent decades (in the developed world, the number of adults over 65 has surpassed the number of children under 15), data indicates that this extension of lifespan does not correlate well with the extension of a healthy lifespan. As the elderly population is projected to nearly double that of the young by 2050, longitudinal brain health research is urgently needed.
Improving brain health and optimizing performance across the lifespan and reducing risk factors for cognitive decline and brain disease may be the most important health priority of the 21st century, similar to the priority of heart health in the 20th century – which is why the BHI has designed a novel strategy to impact lifelong change at the local, national, and global level.
What is the BHI’s goal?
The mission of the BHI is to:
- Increase brain health and performance outcomes across the lifespan at the individual and community level throughout the greater Gulf Coast region.
- Create a collective impact prototype that improves brain health outcomes across the lifespan – with an adaptive framework that can be replicated to support unique local needs.
- Generate discoveries needed to increase brain health outcomes globally.
- Establish infrastructure and platforms that will elevate the Gulf Coast as the “go to” place for brain health scientists, clinicians, and innovators working across multiple disciplines.
- Promote and build the Gulf Coast as a scientific leader in brain health discovery and innovation throughout the region, state, nation, and world.
How will the BHI achieve its goal?
The BHI will achieve its mission by:
- Creating brain healthy communities, and culture, in the Florida Gulf Coast region through a collective impact prototype that can be adapted to address unique local needs.
- Launching the Brain Health Initiative Longitudinal Study, a multi-generational, community-based, epidemiological, longitudinal research study that will follow Gulf Coast residents, visitors, and workforce for decades in order to identify factors associated with brain health and performance across the lifespan.
- Initiating a community-based brain health living laboratory, the Brain Health Innovation Lab: a multidisciplinary community of global clinical researchers, clinicians, engineers (e.g., bio-medical, artificial intelligence, robotics) innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs who will propose, financially support, and execute studies designed to validate and conduct feasibility research on cutting-edge interventions (e.g., neurotechnology, pharmaceutical, supplements) and lifestyle interventions (e.g., sleep, physical activity, nutrition, stress resilience, cognitive stimulation, social engagement, etc.) related to brain health promotion, prevention, early identification, evidence-based intervention, and performance optimization across the lifespan.
How does the BHI work?
The BHI features three core components: its overarching collective impact framework, longitudinal epidemiological research, and a living laboratory where science and innovation can be validated through clinical trials and studied for feasibility. In a novel departure from existing research, the BHI will focus across the lifespan on brain health promotion, prevention, early identification, evidence-based intervention, and performance optimization by bringing science and innovation into the region where residents, workforce, and visitors live, work, learn, and play. Abandoning the sterile environment of a traditional laboratory, this approach was designed in mindful appreciation of the complex and deeply personal factors that impact all aspects of brain health.
Instead of simply learning about the community, the BHI aspires to learn with it.
What is a collective impact approach?
Collective impact is defined as the commitment of a group of cross-sector actors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem at scale. This approach is defined by five core elements:
- Common agenda: All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.
- Shared measurement system: Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.
- Mutually reinforcing activities: Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
- Continuous communication: Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation.
- Backbone support: Ongoing support by independent, funded staff dedicated to the initiative, including guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practice, engaging the community, advancing policy, and mobilizing funding. Backbone staff can all sit within a single organization, or have different roles housed in multiple organizations.
Why did the BHI select Lakewood Ranch as its pilot community?
Located just outside of Sarasota, Florida, Lakewood Ranch is currently the second best-selling planned community in the United States. A planned community is purpose-built. Unlike other communities, where construction occurs more spontaneously, a planned community is built from undeveloped land so as to be organized in a deliberate way.
Lakewood Ranch is a 31,000-acre planned community, home to more than 30,000 residents in more than 20 villages. The community was established in 1994 and today consists of homes, neighborhoods, businesses, shopping centers, various amenities, schools, parks and open spaces.
Lakewood Ranch was designed with a multigenerational community in mind. As such, residents live in apartments, senior living facilities, and detached family homes. Lakewood Ranch is also home to 1,383 businesses employing more than 15,000 employees in diverse fields, including finance and insurance, healthcare, retail, professional/technology, and construction. There are also numerous public and private schools – elementary through college. The nine college campuses include medical, pharmacy, and dental schools. There are more than 15 places of worship in Lakewood Ranch, along with several beginning congregations. Lakewood Ranch is also home to the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, a 120-bed hospital that opened in the fall of 2004.
As the largest green planned community in the nation, nearly 60% of the community’s acreage is open space. Lakewood Ranch is particularly committed to providing a healthy and environmentally responsible place for residents of all ages to live, work, and play.
With its large, multi-generational community and diverse on-site resources to support the health and well-being of its residents, Lakewood Ranch is the ideal setting for a ground-breaking study of brain health and performance.
Why is the BHI headquartered in the Florida Gulf Coast?
Before selecting the Florida Gulf Coast region for the BHI, we asked ourselves:
Is there a brain health crisis in the region?
The data responded with a resounding: Yes.
Next, we took inventory of what we knew:
- The global brain health crisis is complex.
- No one actor can solve the problem alone.
- There are gaps and silos in the system.
- A lack of coordination exists among actors.
- There is an urgent need for innovation and new solutions.
- Multiple sectors are needed to work together to address the brain health crisis.
- All end-users in the system are affected by brain health, and the majority are affected by brain illness.
With that understanding in mind, we then asked ourselves if there were multiple actors in the system who could influence brain health outcomes across the lifespan throughout the Gulf Coast region.
The answer again was a clear and definitive: Yes.
Lastly, we considered whether the Florida Gulf Coast was ready for cross-sector collaboration.
- Are there influential champions who can provide local leadership?
- Do financial resources exist to support collaboration for at least 24 months?
- Is there a history of collaboration in the local community?
- Is there perceived urgency for change on this issue?
Affirmative answers to every inquiry made our decision an easy one. After evaluating multiple regions throughout North America, the Florida Gulf Coast was selected, as it is an ideal place to create, promote, and advance brain health research, innovation, and outcomes.