May 21, 2008

5 Min Read
Consumer Attitudes on Cognitive Health

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, an estimated 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and it is projected that this number could more than triple to 16 million by mid-century. With no known cause and no cure, this progressive and fatal brain disease, the most common form of dementia, is feared by many, as it robs victims of their mental capacity, memory, intellectualism, personality—their very being. This fear has not only generated more awareness of the disease itself, but has also strengthened general attitudes and behaviors regarding the importance of maintaining memory, cognition and overall mental health throughout the aging process.

According to general population U.S. research conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), losing mental/brain capacity is the biggest fear of aging, as indicated by 44 percent of the U.S. adult population (Figure 1). More than half of females reported losing mental/brain capacity is their biggest fear about aging, significantly more than males. Roughly half of Boomers (ages 42 to 61) and Matures (age 62+) indicated this, significantly more than Gen X and Y.

This fear is not irrational; rather, it is seen as a real possibility. What’s most frightening about this disease is that it ultimately renders its victims unable to care for themselves, which leads to an equally big fear about aging—being a burden on family or other loved ones, which was also cited by 44 percent of U.S. adults. Again, females and older generations are significantly more likely to be fearful of this. While younger generations and males may not be (or may not admit to being) as fearful, the majority rate mental/brain health as being a very/somewhat important issue to them in their life today, indicating strong awareness and importance of maintaining mental health across the entire spectrum of the U.S. general population.

Maintaining a Healthy Mind

Despite being fearful of losing mental capacity as they age, many individuals believe there are concrete steps they can take to keep their brain healthy and stimulated and protected from injury or disease. In fact, a majority of the U.S. population believes strongly or somewhat that they can make changes in their daily lives that will improve their level of brain fitness.

While there are some risk factors that can’t be avoided, such as the aging process and genetics, there are things that can be done to help keep the brain healthy, and possibly reduce the risk of developing dementia. These factors include staying mentally, socially and physically active, as well as adopting a diet low in cholesterol and rich in antioxidants, which helps protect brain cells. In fact, NMI research has found nearly two-thirds of American adults maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to have a healthy mind.

However, there are certain factors that can have a negative effect on the brain, and stress is one of them. While stress is completely normal and some types of stress can actually be beneficial, chronic stress is potentially damaging to the brain. As shown in Figure 2, more than 40 percent of respondents feel strongly/somewhat that the amount of stress in their life is negatively affecting their brain fitness/cognitive abilities. And nearly half are so stressed out sometimes that it affects their ability to think clearly.

Lack of sleep, which often is related to stress, is another enemy of brain health. Lack of sleep can affect an individual’s memory, ability to perform simple daily tasks and attention span. NMI research found that six out of ten respondents feel their lack of sleep is negatively affecting their concentration and memory. Younger generations (Gen Y, X and Boomers) were significantly more likely than Matures to agree strongly/somewhat with this, as were households with children, compared to households without children. Intertwined with stress and lack of sleep is lack of energy, which can also negatively affect concentration and memory, as indicated by nearly two-thirds of the U.S. adult population.

Declining Brain Fitness

NMI research has uncovered that nearly one in ten Boomers are currently managing or treating memory/concentration/cognitive function, significantly more than all other generations. Nearly half of all respondents agreed that their brain fitness has declined compared to 10 years ago, including Boomers and Matures. Even more concerning is more than half of respondents are concerned that someone in their family or someone close to them is likely to experience a major decline in their brain fitness in the next five to ten years. While there are ways to minimize some of the risk factors associated with dementia, there are no guaranteed ways to prevent it from occurring. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 71 seconds someone develops Alzheimer’s disease.

Interestingly, NMI research reveals that more than half of the U.S. population strongly/somewhat believes that there will be a medical cure for memory loss available in the next ten years. Will this magic bullet come to exist?

Brain fitness is a prime opportunity across many industries—food and beverage, dietary supplements, technology and alternative health care—to provide solutions for the aging population so they can retain their independence, control and dignity. In essence, it’s all about quality of life and the continual desire for such nirvana.

Steve French is managing partner at The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a strategic consulting, market research and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness, and sustainability marketplace. For more information on NMI’s services or proprietary research tools, contact French at [email protected] or visit

Editor's Note: Looking for more information on nutritional ingredients for cognitive health? INSIDER's Free Webinar, "Cognition and Memory: Consumer Attitudes and Ingredients to Remember", will be available on demand May 22, 2008. Click here to learn more.

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