In 2015, Professor’s Martin Rossor (UCL) and Martin Knapp [LSE], published a paper in The Lancet proposing a novel concept, the ‘Cognitive Footprint’. An idea, reflected on over several years, that seeks to quantify how the circumstances we live in, and the choices we make in life, affect our cognitive health.
Although the emphasis on cognition in society tends to orientate towards later life and dementia, the Cognitive Footprint challenges this notion. It attempts to quantify the effect, size and duration of decisions and policies throughout the lifespan.
Professor Rossor proposes that the benefits of having a more holistic approach could fundamentally change the way society responds to cognitive health: “The current focus is on dementia which is clearly very important, but there are many more subtle effects on cognition due to other diseases, lifestyles and social circumstances. The effects may be small but if experienced over a long period of time they become substantial”.
Cognitive Footprint intends to shift the balance, by widening the debate to one that focuses across the lifespan. It explores the impact of factors such as air pollution, contact sports and medication through to education, diseases and social factors.
Influencing government policy
This breadth of insight, could provide a valuable contribution to public policy, including health, social care, education, criminal justice, transport, sport, and employment among others.
Society tends to measure things it feels are important – everything from our happiness, to the foods we eat and the hours we sleep, and yet it could be argued cognition in its full complexity is often overlooked.
Giving it parity with society’s key investments such as education, public health and environmental protection, would pay dividends from a socio-economic perspective when looked at across the lifespan. In turn this could stimulate broad public engagement in protecting what is, after all, our most valuable asset.
Looking ahead, Professor Rossor is hoping to develop Cognitive Footprint exemplars in the next few years: “I would like to think that it can guide policy decisions, specifically, choosing a policy that maximises cognitive capital at both an individual and societal level”.
Want to get involved?
The authors are now keen to open up the discussion, through a new public and patient involvement/engagement [PPI/E] project. The aim is to understand people’s thoughts on cognition and the impact certain factors have on their cognitive health.
A series of workshops will explore the conceptions of cognition, in the hope that both researchers and participants will deepen their appreciation of the wide diversity of personal conceptions of cognition, enriching the development of the Cognitive Footprint.
If you are interested in getting involved in this project, there is scope for Early Career Researchers to contribute from a conceptual level or practically through the facilitation of regional workshops.
Professor Rossor is hoping to welcome emerging talent to the project team: “The Cognitive Footprint is at an exciting stage, where we are seeking to further develop the conceptual and practical elements. This is something that ECRs could certainly help with. PPI/E projects can provide both a citizen science platform for studies but also insights on how cognition is viewed and valued”.
Tempted? Even Professor Rossor is aware of the scale of the challenge: “I have been trained as a clinical neurologist to ‘split’ diseases into ever finer categories, and my research has largely been experimental. The Cognitive Footprint is more holistic, looking to ‘lump’ the multiple dimensions of cognition.”
If you want to help steer the debate and be part of an exciting project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
To read the paper in full, please click here.