17 July 2016
I began my self-imposed industry research journey at the World Congress of Active Ageing in Melbourne (hosted by ISEAL), and it certainly had a profound and overwhelming affect on me. Admittedly, beyond learning about this incredible and progressive industry unified in healthier and active ageing principles, I also found myself reflecting on my past and current lifestyle choices that will, according to real data outcomes, absolutely impact my ageing trajectory.
But there was one term that resonated with me, and it was only thrown out into the audience at the WCAA by keynote speaker, Professor Nicola Lautenschlager (University of Melbourne), for professionals to consider a re-modelled concept for long term cognitive health policies and interventions in their workplace.
The term was Cognitive Footprint.
I’d never heard of a cognitive footprint, carbon yes, but cognitive no. Yet, within this analogy, I could appreciate how events in my life might have affected the way I think? And indeed, if the events in all our lives are as varied and complex, so too might be our thoughts and the way we participate in society.
Of course, cognitive or brain health is not always a choice. Your development in-vitro, pharmacological side effects, accidents, the environment you live in, education access, etc. can determine cognitive health. But nevertheless, your cognitive health impacts how you participate in living.
So, inspired by this cognitive footprint concept, I threw myself into further research and began to understand its real global importance. Further, it is absolutely perfect for my very first article published here, on The Age of Senescence.
Where did the term ‘Cognitive Footprint’ come from?
I found two chaps, professors actually, working in London, who came up with the term in an article they published in The Lancet; a popular medical journal published in the UK.
Co-contributors to the term ‘cognitive footprint’ Professor M. Rossor, Clinical Neurologist from UCL Institute of Neurology, and Professor M. Knapp of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, both London, UK, present a viewpoint academic paper about remodelling the way nations need to address the challenges of dementia.
Rosser and Knapp predict that global inequitable and expensive dementia care costs will have economic fallouts, unless policy makers start investing in their most valuable asset; their nations cognitive capital.
The authors argue that by asking the question, “What is your cognitive footprint?” individuals and policy makers alike are forced to analyse what is positively or negatively impacting their societal cognitive health, and as such, societal outcomes which invariably impact a nations overall economic proficiency.
Rossor and Knapp believe nations that are proactive in achieving a positive cognitive footprint will fair better economically than those who don’t. This means, a nation that is mentally healthier, will be more efficient. By fostering the term ‘cognitive footprint’, the true severity of dementias can truly be appreciated and, more importantly, globally quantified. Moreover, if the term is aligned to other prominent modern challenges (such as ‘carbon footprint’ in the climate change debate), additional weight of its importance can be appreciated and a market brand or policy model can be developed.
It therefore also becomes a valid measurement to compare against other global nations as they compete to retain their society’s cognitive capital, reduce the severe economic consequences of all dementias, and seek instead to become healthier and more productive as a nation.
Lifetime policies for cognitive health not just end-stage dementia.
This article is a classic account of the tail that wags the dog. The authors are concerned about governments who are centrally focused on late-stage dementias instead of the broader, and arguably bigger, societal opportunities such as lifespan cognitive health promotion. (See my article on achieving residential aged care organisational agility here)
Rossor and Knapp want policy makers to consider wider and more positive cognitive health policies and implementations influencing their nations cognitive longevity, rather than see them prey to the dementia epidemic. Further, the authors state it is not enough that governing dementia strategic plans are available at point of diagnosis, but that they should be considering the wider opportunity to invest in their nations lifespan of cognitive health, which might reduce predispositions to cognitive impairment in the first place!
This observation by Rossor and Knapp is reasonably profound (evidence based), as it suggests that dementia, or rather its true definition cognitive decline, is more predominate in those who are exposed to events, pharmacology or lifestyle choices that inherently create cognitive impairment.
Therefore the cause of cognitive impairment, or decline such as we see in dementia, won’t just be confined to elder-hood, but what results from our entire life events, that impact our cognitive shape in old age. Henceforth, this wonderful term Cognitive Footprint is coined and defined perfectly.
It’s about the cognitive health efforts of a whole society.
Rossor and Knapp define cognitive health as bidirectional that relies on individuals and governments as equally significant parties who endorse policies and interventions towards positive cognitive health promotion.
For the individual; lifetime engagement in educational investment, safe exercise, good nutrition, protective environment and healthy social behaviours are essential activities to enhancing cognitive health. And as for governments, preserving their nations full cognitive potential over a lifespan requires for instance, a participative educational culture, a responsive public health system (especially pharmacology awareness), an adaptive social care system, a just legal structure, a protective environment (i.e. safe sanitation) and a contributing and productive workforce.
If the term cognitive footprint does indeed carry and become a mainstream political or social slogan, it might just represent real quantifiable conversations amongst communities who truly and whole-heartedly reject the prevalence of dementias.
Broadly speaking, this concept can span into other areas such as obesity and debilitating chronic illnesses that might also the result of the cognitive footprint model, and thus, my imagination boggles how this term can indeed be used to measure a nations wider cognitive efficiency – from conception until death.
I can’t help but reflect, how has my cognitive footprint affected my life in the past, my life now, my family’s life and our lives in the future?
One thing is for sure; my little family is and will be healthier for having learnt this.
Written by Kirsty Porter