Novel concept in dementia research suggested by UCLH consultant 

30/07/2015 00:00 
A novel conceptual framework for tackling the global challenge of dementia has been proposed in an article published today in The Lancet. NHNN consultant Professor Martin Rossor and LSE Professor Martin Knapp have suggested modelling a “cognitive footprint” of activities, interventions and policies.

Mental skills such as memory, awareness, judgment, and problem-solving are required to carry out any knowledge-based task. Development of these cognitive abilities is affected by environmental and lifestyle factors – from even before birth right through to later life. These abilities affect the well-being of the individual, and the overall social and economic well-being of a nation. The cognitive potential of a population determines its cognitive capital, which is a key resource for creating wealth through better skills, more efficient communication, research breakthroughs and technological innovation.

The concept of a cognitive footprint starts with the premise that the cognitive potential of any individual should be realised, and the lifetime contribution of any individual to a society’s cognitive capital should be maximised. Drawing an analogy with the concept of a carbon footprint, it is suggested that a cognitive footprint can be developed for individual actions and interventions and also for national and local policies.

The impetus for developing the concept arose from concern around the focus of the dementia challenge on late life dementia and particularly on Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst recognising this is a cause for major concern because of changing demographics it risks losing sight of the importance of less severe impairments of cognition due to many different diseases. It also argues for a life course perspective rather than focussing on late life.

Explaining the utility of the concept, Prof Rossor said: “We are proposing to identify positive or negative footprints from birth both at an individual and societal level. A cognitive footprint will be multidimensional and we will need to be creative about how we refine the measurement. An example we give in the article is the potential utility of a routine measure of cognition in all drug trials regardless of the disease. This would identify potential negative footprints as cognitive complaints are common drug side effects but it might also identify unanticipated positive effects”

Summarising, Prof Rossor added: “The article is a challenge to debate and explore mechanisms for the measurement of a cognitive footprint.”

Prof Knapp said: “Cognition is one of society’s most valuable resources. We need to understand what shapes, damages and protects it. A cognitive footprint helps to highlight the challenges we face.”

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