Primary Navigation for the CDC Website
CDC en EspaƱol
Healthy Aging
Email Icon Email this page
Printer Friendly Icon Printer-friendly version
 Healthy Aging
bullet Home
bullet About Us
bullet State of Aging & Health Report
bullet Caregiving
bullet End of Life Preparedness
bullet Health Information for Older Adults
bullet Health Statistics/Research
bullet Healthy Brain Initiative
bullet Road Map
bullet Alzheimer's Disease
bullet Links to Organizations
bullet CDC-Funded Projects
bullet Public Health and Aging Listserv
bullet Health Disparities
bullet Press Room
bullet Publications

 Set Font Size
Normal Text Large Text  Larger Text

Contact Info

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Healthy Aging Program
4770 Buford Highway, N.E., Mailstop K-45
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717

bullet Contact CDCs Healthy Aging Program

We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.


Healthy Brain Initiative

The role of public health in enhancing the physical health of older adults is well-known. Public health’s role in maintaining cognitive health, a vital part of healthy aging and quality of life, is emerging. Cognition is a combination of mental processes that includes the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering. The need for a clearly delineated public health role comes at a critical time, given the dramatic aging of the U.S. population, scientific advancements in risk behaviors (e.g., lack of physical activity, uncontrolled high blood pressure) related to cognitive decline, and the growing awareness of the significant health, social, and economic burdens associated with cognitive decline. The Healthy Brain Initiative is a multifaceted approach to cognitive health that includes the following:

The lack of cognitive health—from mild cognitive decline to dementia—can have profound implications for an individual’s health and well-being. Older adults and others experiencing cognitive decline may be unable to care for themselves or to conduct necessary activities of daily living, such as meal preparation and money management. Limitations with the ability to effectively manage medications and existing medical conditions are particular concerns when an individual is experiencing cognitive decline or dementia. If cognitive decline can be prevented or better treated, lives of many older adults can be improved.

Opportunities for maintaining cognitive health are growing as public health professionals gain a better understanding of cognitive decline risk factors. The public health community should embrace cognitive health as a priority, invest in its promotion, and enhance our ability to move scientific discoveries rapidly into public health practice.

Back to top

The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health

The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health is a call to action and a guide to assist in implementing a coordinated approach to moving cognitive health into public health practice. The road map was written to bring together multiple partners, agencies, and organizations. It was developed in a year-long process following a research meeting about “The Healthy Brain and Our Aging Population: Translating Science into Public Health Practice,” in May 2006. The developmental process involved partners at the national, state, and local levels including the Alzheimer’s Association, National Institutes of Health, Administration on Aging, AARP, National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, the Healthy Aging Research Network of the Prevention Research Centers, and many others. The priority actions are grounded in the current state of the science, emphasize primary prevention, and are focused on community and population health. The priority actions were developed and reviewed by more than 150 experts across various disciplines and organizations.

The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health was released on June 10th, 2007, at the International Prevention of Dementia Conference in Washington, DC.

 Back to top


  • Assessing and monitoring the perceived impact of cognitive impairment at the state-level. CDC’s Healthy Aging Program used a comprehensive approach to develop a set of questions for use in a population-based surveillance system (specifically the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) that assesses and monitors the public’s beliefs about the impact of cognitive impairment. These data will lay the groundwork for advancing public health’s understanding about the perceived impact of cognitive impairment among American adults by providing state-level data. These data can be used to develop state and national report cards about cognitive impairment, develop state and local plans and policies, develop programs and community coalitions, and identify calls to action.

 Back to top


  • Understanding the publics’ perception of “brain health”

The CDC funded the Healthy Aging Research Network (PRC-HAN), a Prevention Research Centers network of nine universities involving experts in the field of aging and working within communities, is conducting prevention research on older adult health issues including cognitive health. HAN members are collaborating on a networkwide project that involves a series of focus groups designed to identify how diverse groups of older adults understand cognitive health and what health promotion and disease prevention approaches related to cognitive health the public may find most appealing. This project has recently been expanded to examine the perceptions of caregivers and healthcare providers. It will provide important data that can be added to what is already known about cognitive or “brain” health, identify gaps in knowledge about cognitive health and related risk factors, and determine if such beliefs vary across geographical distances and between diverse populations.

Healthy Aging Research Network (PRC-HAN)

  • Systematic literature review about physical activity interventions or strategies related to cognitive health. CDC’s Healthy Aging Program funded this project to conduct a review of current literature about interventions designed to promote protective factors for cognitive health, such as physical activity. Guided by an expert panel, project investigators developed an organizing model and analytic framework to guide the review. A systematic review is currently underway to identify physical activity interventions related to cognitive health. This project focuses on physical activity interventions or strategies most relevant to the public health community.
  • Research meeting about the “Healthy Brain and our Aging Population: Translating Science to Public Health Practice.”

The CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association held a meeting in May 2006 to bring together national experts to review and discuss the current scientific knowledge of major risk and protective factors related to maintaining cognitive function and reducing risk for cognitive decline. Additionally, the meeting focused on addressing the potential to promote and protect cognitive health and emotional well-being through new collaborations and investments to move the science forward for the benefit of the public. The findings from the research meeting have provided a foundation and common frame of reference for moving cognitive health forward to find programmatic and prevention research strategies for risk factors (e.g., lack of physical activity, uncontrolled high blood pressure) that have an impact on cognitive health issues. Proceedings from the meeting were published in an April 2007 supplement issue, “The Healthy Brain and our Aging Population” of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

 Back to top


The CDC has established a cooperative agreement with the Alzheimer’s Association to develop and implement a multifaceted community-based demonstration project to educate African American baby boomers on the current state of science related to brain-healthy lifestyles. The community intervention is designed to effect knowledge and attitudes among African American baby boomers related to physical activity and vascular risk factors, and it will be overlaid with information about other general health behaviors such as diet, social activity and mental activity. During the first phase of this project, the Alzheimer’s Association led a comprehensive planning and development effort, including formative research to assess the current needs and obstacles for the target population, eliciting community input and participation, and creating a comprehensive, multi-level community intervention with robust evaluation mechanisms to measure effectiveness of the public health project. This project is currently being evaluated and implemented in two U.S. communities.

 Back to top


  • Engaging young people on cognitive health.

The CDC Healthy Aging Program worked with CDC’s Science Ambassador Program to teach budding scientists about Alzheimer’s disease. This program partners CDC scientists with middle and high school science teachers to develop public health-related lesson plans that meet National Science Education standards. These lesson plans bring current and relevant science topics into the classroom and challenge students to think about science as it applies to their own lives.

The Aging Brain: A Lesson on Alzheimer's Disease (PDF–336Kb)

 Back to top

Reference citation:
Source: Himes C, Oettinger EN, Kenny DE (2004). Aging in Stride: Plan ahead, stay connected, keep moving. Washington: Caresource Healthcare Communications, Inc.


* Links to non-federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the federal government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at this link.

PDF Icon One or more documents on this Web page is available in Portable Document Format (PDF). You will need Acrobat Reader (a free application) to view and print these documents.

Page last reviewed: December 17, 2008
Page last modified: December 17, 2008
Content source: Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

  Home | Policies and Regulations | Disclaimer | e-Government | FOIA | Contact Us
Safer, Healthier People

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30333, U.S.A
Tel: (404) 639-3311 / Public Inquiries: (404) 639-3534 / (800) 311-3435 The U.S. government's official web portal.DHHS Department of Health
and Human Services