Cognitive Decline is Common, But Is It Inevitable?

We value our friends and our families for many reasons including the happiness and companionship they bring us. When age advances and cognitive decline takes hold we can lose that valued relationship. It seems aging and decline are the bane of human existence. Just like wrinkles, cognitive decline may be a normal aspect of aging, but is it inevitable?

Where humans are concerned the cost of cognitive decline is massive. In 2012, 15.4 million Americans provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care (estimated value $216.4 billion) to family and friends with various forms of cognitive impairment. More than 60 percent of caregivers rate their emotional stress as high or very high; more than one-third report symptoms of depression. Due to the physical and emotional toll of care giving, caregivers had $9.1 billion in additional healthcare costs of their own in 2012. In 2013, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with dementia will total an estimated $203 billion, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. These costs are projected to increase from $203 billion in 2013 to $1.2 trillion in 2050 (in current dollars). [ref. Alzheimer’s association, 2013]. And it goes without saying, if we could quantify it, the value of lost quality of life across all of those sufferers would be absolutely massive.

It seems inevitable, but maybe it isn’t.
The fast growing need for products that will help to keep a healthy mind healthy has led scientists and industry to intensify their effort on developing products for this huge market. Most of the available products are focused on prevention rather than cure, and the market for brain health supplements is dramatically increasing as public awareness turns from physical to mental health management. However, in the world of functional food few companies stand out as having viable claims. One of the few is Nestlé-Purina, the St. Louis Petcare company known for its responsible claims and putting animal health and welfare above all else. Through the use of scientific diligence and conscientious validation the company has recently announced (August, 2014) new innovative nutritional approaches that clearly indicate the ability to reduce cognitive decline in aging dogs.

Can this be applied to Humans?
For the most part, it probably can. Though scientists have spent years and billions of dollars trying to tackle the tough subjects of cognition and cognitive decline, most of what we know comes from our understanding of the brains of our pets. It is not unreasonable that at a fundamental level what works on Fido, with modification will work on us.

But it isn’t that simple, nor that restrictive.
The multidimensional aspect of cognitive decline is both a challenge and a boon because it offers multiple potential strategic opportunities for intervention that the innovative company may explore. Four very broad and very promising primary avenues of innovation include:

  1. Nutrition: There is opportunity to innovate products and services to leverage the beneficial effects of diet and functional foods on the brain.
  2. Lifestyle and Lifelong behaviors: There is opportunity to innovate products and services to protect the brain’s health throughout the life of a consumer.
  3. Physical Activity: There is opportunity to innovate products and services to leverage the protective effects of light physical activity on the brain.
  4. Mental Stimulation: There is opportunity to innovate products and services to leverage the beneficial effects of mental stimulation and mental exercise on the brain.

The aging population is triggering a fast growing need for new strategies to help combat cognitive decline as we age. Companies can realize the value of developing science-based innovative products and technologies targeted at maintaining a healthy mind, but there is no room for charlatans.