Researchers seek to redefine concept of brain health for people with MS

28 February 2024

  • The concept of ‘brain health’ is gaining traction in MS research, although the definition can vary.
  • A scoping review, guided by the methodological framework of the Joanna Briggs Institute, was conducted to gather evidence relating to brain health for MS.
  • Considering lifestyle and social factors alongside medical care can better support individuals with MS in maintaining long-term brain health.

A focus on brain health in MS

The surge in brain health research, particularly in the context of MS, has prompted researchers at The University of Wollongong to explore this interesting area.

Reflecting MS Australia’s longstanding interest in advancing knowledge in this domain, MS Australia-funded researcher Olivia Wills, conducted a scoping review aimed at gathering evidence of “brain health” in the MS landscape and published the findings in The European Journal of Neurology.

What did the researchers do?

Ms Wills followed the Joanna Briggs Institute’s methodological framework. Six search strategies were employed to retrieve both scientific and grey literature sources (a wide range of information produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels).

A total of 70 evidence sources, including 34 peer-reviewed and 36 grey literature documents, were considered for inclusion.

Qualitative analysis methods were applied to organise the evidence based on definitions of brain health, outcome measures, and brain-healthy lifestyle elements.

What did the researchers find?

Among the eligible sources, just over half (57%) provided a definition of brain health. The most common definition focused on the idea of neurological reserve, which is a theory about the brain’s ability to adapt and maintain good function.

Twenty-nine outcome measures for brain health were identified, with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) metrics being the most frequent (83%).

Notably, physical activity emerged as the predominant brain-healthy lifestyle element (44 sources), followed by smoking avoidance (26 sources) and diet (24 sources).

What does this mean for people with MS?

The findings underscore the significance of prioritising brain health in the management of MS, both in terms of the disease itself and lifestyle choices.

The proposed shift from a purely medical lens towards a broader biopsychosocial perspective supports the need to consider factors beyond the traditional biomedical model.

Acknowledging the influence of various elements, such as physical activity, smoking cessation, and diet, provides a more holistic approach to optimising brain health for individuals living with MS.

By identifying brain-healthy lifestyle elements, this review offers crucial evidence for public health bodies, justifying further research into behaviour change strategies to improve brain health and disease outcomes for people living with MS.

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Researchers seek to redefine concept of brain health for people with MS