For the better part of a decade and a half, neuropsychologist Stephanie Peabody pondered ways to translate what science knows about brain health into healthier living for the general population.
Among those knowns — what Peabody calls the pillars of brain health — are the importance of stress resilience, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, social engagement, cognitive stimulation, emotional well being, meaning and purpose, general health and making a positive impact.
In essence, Peabody proposed to create a living laboratory for scientists to investigate brain health across the human lifespan, and to work with members of a community — from the youngest to the oldest — to assist them with their brain health, while also collecting research data that could be used globally.
On Tuesday, she met with the media and talked about how the Bradenton-Sarasota area was selected for the The Brain Health Initiative at Lakewood Ranch. Details about the initiative were reported in the Bradenton Herald last week.
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Out of 10 communities across the United States, Lakewood Ranch was selected based on its multi-generational makeup, high level of social engagement, vibrant business community, and strong medical, wellness, educational, and arts and culture infrastructure, said Peabody, executive director of The Academy for Brain Health and Performance.
“It has many of the basic elements that support healthy living,” she said.
During the past year, Peabody and other members of her team met behind the scenes with community leaders and Lakewood Ranch officials to discuss the Brain Healthy concept.
Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, said Lakewood Ranch and its CORE Campus were a perfect fit for the Brain Health initiative.
“She came here, looked around and was totally impressed,” Boylston said Tuesday.
A brain health initiative, tied to Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, and The Academy for Brain Health and Performance, suited the CORE Campus to a T, Boylston said.
What CORE (Collaboration Opportunities for Research and Exploration) lacked was a university presence, Boylston said.
“And then Harvard showed up,” he said.
This is a multi-generational study at Lakewood Ranch that will go on forever, Boylston said.
“This will be a database that will be accessed by researchers all over the globe,” he said.
One of the key features of the program, Peabody and Boylston said, is that it will be able to educate people on things they can do to have a healthier life and a healthier brain.
Asked to project where the program will be in five years, Peabody said pilot research will have been completed, the lifespan work with residents will be underway, and the brain innovation lab will have been developed.
“I really want to stress that this is for the lifespan and healthy aging. This is very pioneering work,” she said. “Brain health is about all of us. One in three persons will face brain health issues during their lifetime. We can help take care for our brain health, like we do our bodies. Part of our first phase is developing a culture and a community around brain health.”
Brain health, which some call the final frontier of medicine, covers a wide range of diseases, injuries, and issues, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, traumatic injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.
Retired Army Sgt. First Class Eric Onstad was among those who attended Tuesday’s news conference.
Onstad, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2006, said the Department of Veteran Affairs does a good job with its diagnoses.
He hopes to see new types of treatment emerge from the initiative that could help him and other veterans.
Andy Guz, chief executive officer of Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, said the initiative could be a landmark in developing research data that will change behaviors and the way people look at brain health.
The study could have significant health, and economic impact, Guz said.
Key factors in the success of the initiative include developing collaboration, building the infrastructure, and creating the relationships not only to launch study, but to sustain it, Peabody said.
A $1.6 million community fundraising campaign to support the next two phases of this initiative is underway.
Rex Jensen, CEO/President of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Developer of Lakewood Ranch, announced support of the initiative with a $600,000 commitment.
For more information on the Building a Brain Healthy Community initiative or to support project funding, visit https://www.brainhealthylwr.com/.