Innovative program empowers women to strengthen brain health


In this article:

  • The newly launched Women’s Brain Health Program at the Center for Healthy Aging at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute is now accepting patients.

  • The Women’s Brain Health Program helps women get ahead of cognitive decline with an innovative approach to care that combines a one-on-one appointment with shared medical visits.

  • Social interaction stimulates our brains, making it a powerful strategy for strengthening our cognitive health.

You may have heard that the majority of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women. Why is this the case? One reason may be due to the unique hormone fluctuations women experience during menopause. And those hormonal changes, particularly the drop in estrogen that happens during menopause, may make women more susceptible to cognitive decline.

There is good news, though. With guidance from your health care provider, there are many things you can do to delay cognitive decline and decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

The Women’s Brain Health Program is redefining cognitive care

Now women in the Puget Sound area have a first-of-its kind program specifically designed to help them safeguard their cognitive health and age confidently. Launched this year, the Women’s Brain Health Program at the Swedish Center for Healthy Aging is an innovative new model of care that’s breaking down silos between medical specialties to help women protect their brain health for the long term.

The program is currently accepting patients ages 30-60 who are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Family history of Alzheimer's disease
  • Fatigue and sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Midlife cognitive concerns

Women can get ahead of cognitive decline

“Menopause is a big shift for women. It’s a time of accelerated aging, and it’s a time when changes begin to occur in the brain that increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” says Nancy B. Isenberg, M.D. MPH, a neurologist and the Medical Director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Swedish Health. “Thankfully, there’s lots of evidence that the earlier and more consistently we intervene with lifestyle medicine treatments to manage dementia risk factors and medication, when necessary, the greater we can impact the chances of women developing dementia later in life.” 

“In fact, effectively targeting modifiable risk factors would prevent 40% of dementia cases,” says Dr. Isenberg. “So, our goal is to empower women with the tools and skills in midlife to help them stay as healthy as they can and age well, throughout their lives.”

The program begins with a one-on-one assessment  

Located at Swedish Cherry Hill, patients in the Women’s Brain Health program start with a one-on-one telehealth or in-person appointment with Dr. Isenberg. This initial appointment includes a cognitive assessment and assessment of the patient’s health history and family health history. If determined necessary, laboratory analysis and brain imaging can be ordered. Patients dealing with sleep issues may be referred for a sleep evaluation.

“There are many symptoms that occur in the menopause transition that may not be due to perimenopause or menopause alone,” says Dr. Isenberg. “Common issues like brain fog, forgetfulness and fatigue could also be caused by a micronutrient deficiency, sleep or mood disorder, alcohol use, or thyroid abnormality, for example. We want to begin by looking at the patient holistically to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them enter these years in the best possible health.”

Innovative, shared appointments support cognitive health

After the initial appointment with Dr. Isenberg, patients begin a series of eight one-hour group visits led by the program’s interdisciplinary team of specialty providers. In addition to Dr. Isenberg, the team includes:

The series is called HoME, which stands for “Health of Menopause.” It covers topics and strategies to promote health and wellbeing such as:

  • Exercise and movement
  • Food as medicine
  • Lifelong learning and neuroplasticity
  • Menopause hormone therapy
  • Mind-body practices
  • Sleep
  • Stress management and resilience

In addition to the brain health topics, the program’s shared medical appointments are designed to provide patients with another activity that supports brain health: social interaction, which stimulates the brain and helps protect it.

“A lot of times when you’re in a group setting, other women will ask questions you didn’t think to ask, but that are also critical to you,” says Dr. Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su, the gynecology specialist on the program’s team. “This group dynamic helps patients learn from deeper discussion while getting support from other women who are experiencing the same symptoms they are. And as providers, it allows us to delve into areas that maybe we can’t address in just one medical visit.”

Women helping women creates a ripple effect

Dr. Isenberg adds that when women come together in support of each other, it can be mutually supportive and have a ripple effect as they share their experiences with their social networks and communities. This can be extremely powerful for women whose experiences have been overlooked or dismissed, and she hopes that as the program grows it will help even more women in midlife access the best care available.

“Aging is inevitable,” she says. “But how we age is not.”                                                                                                                                     


Learn more and find a provider

If you are interested in the Women’s Brain Health Program you must get an authorized referral from a primary care provider or a specialist. If you have a confirmed diagnosis of either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, ask your provider to refer you to the Center for Healthy Aging at Swedish Cherry Hill.

With Swedish Virtual Care, you can connect face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your family and health history. To find a provider, try searching our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Perimenopause and menopause: myths, reality and how to cope

5 tips to reduce “meno-fog”

Want to stay in your home as you age? Planning and healthy habits can help.

Can early menopause raise the risk of heart problems? Swedish experts weigh in.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

Whether you are seeking gynecological advice, need help navigating your way through the menopause stage of life or researching a recent breast cancer diagnosis, the Swedish Women's Health Team is committed to helping women find the information they need to live happy and healthy lives.

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