Put simply, the surge in an older population has distinct consequences from a cognitive health perspective. The National Institute on Aging commissioned the “Health and Retirement Study” to “inform the national retirement discussion as the population so dramatically ages.” It found, “A preliminary study based on HRS data indicates that some 10% of people age 70 and older have moderate to severe cognitive impairment, and prevalence rises sharply with age. In the community, an estimated 6% of people over 70 have moderate to severe impairment, while some 50% of those institutionalized do.”

Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called for an increased awareness of and focus upon cognitive health, stating: “The need for a clearly delineated public health role comes at a critical time, given the dramatic aging of the U.S. population; scientific advancements in knowledge about risk behaviors (e.g., lack of physical activity, uncontrolled high blood pressure) related to cognitive decline; and the growing awareness of the significant health, social and economic burdens associated with cognitive decline.”

As such, the agency’s Healthy Brain Initiative is a multifaceted approach to the topic. HRS data indicate the total national cost from cognitive impairment is an estimated $18 billion; the annual cost of caring for a family member with dementia stands at about $18,000.

HRS information gleaned back in 2000 also found more than half of older Americans say they had used some kind of dietary or herbal supplement. The aging Baby Boom population accounts for nearly a quarter of the nation’s population. By 2020, the U.S. population over the age of 65 is expected to be nearly triple the current number, per the National Senior Games Association. By 2017, 50% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 50, explains The Nielsen Company, which also notes these consumers spend nearly 50% of all CPG dollars.

With an aging population and the recognized cognitive decline that comes with an advancing age, manufacturers are turning to an array of ingredients and products to hit the cognitive health trend head-on. To meet the demand for products promoting mental health, manufacturers are incorporating omegas, CoQ10, antioxidants, botanicals, vitamins and protein. The Mediterranean diet, for instance, which has gained notable popularity in recent years, has elements that purportedly boost cognitive health. Olives being a major component of the diet, there is now a natural olive juice concentrate to aid brain health and, possibly, to “potentiate brain neurogenesis, protecting the brain against age-related neurodegeneration.”

Omega fatty acids have been a trend for years now, and research supports omega-3s’ role in cognitive function and memory (including in adults and seniors), mood and depression, and assorted other physical maladies. In fact, the Life Sciences Research Organization (LSRO) reviewed the scientific evidence on more than 35 food ingredients, dietary supplements and dietary factors to determine whether claims could be linked to the ingredients’ effects on mental energy. The late-2010 study defined mental energy as “mood (transient feelings about the presence of fatigue or energy), motivation (determination and enthusiasm) and cognition (sustained attention and vigilance).”

The review, published in the December 2010 issue of Nutrition Reviews, concluded that gingko biloba appeared to affect mood and attention, while omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Panax ginseng was also among the ingredients analyzed, but the literature proved it delivered inconsistent results in the specific area of cognition. Similarly, evaluating the effects of glucose on memory likewise resulted in inconsistent findings. Antioxidants, on the other hand, may well help counteract age-related cognitive decline, per a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans and is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U. S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s “2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report. Deaths from the disease continue to rise, and estimates suggest that the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s could triple by 2050.


Not Playing Around

The market may well be ripe to capitalize on consumers’ cognitive concerns, at least judging by the success of one company whose entire purpose is in the area of improving brain function. Lumos Labs, the company responsible for the Lumosity brain-training game service, had 50 million members as of November 2013, up 43% from the number reported in January of last year.

The games capitalize on theories from Lumosity’s own research and that of external resources, but make no mistake: Its entire raison d’etre is cognitive health, an increasingly popular area of the gaming community. Estimates indicate that sales of brain-training games surpassed $1 billion in 2012.

Admittedly, the market for video games and foods/beverages are incredibly dissimilar, but this is a distinct area of overlap, particularly in gaining an awareness of just how valuable the younger, game-playing consumer regards brain health and improvement.

The UK has seen an interesting product almost entirely focused upon cognitive health, to the point that it might appear to be a pharmaceutical. For that matter, the Nutricia (the specialty nutrition division at Danone) product is found only in pharmacies in select European countries. Designed for sufferers of early dementia, Souvenaid promises 1,500mg of omega-3s—1,200mg in the form of DHA, with another 300mg from EPA. Souvenaid features a patented combination of nutrients, including those omega-3 fatty acids, choline, uridine monophosphate, and a mixture of antioxidants and B vitamins.

In addition to the cognition boost found in omega-3s, proteins provide the body with a range of amino acids, including tyrosine and tryptophan. The body uses both amino acids to produce neurotransmitters, brain-signaling chemicals required for cognition.

DHA incorporation may well be a route to expand the cognitive health market into younger demographics. A study published in the May 2013 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds DHA may improve memory and reaction times in healthy young people. After six months of supplementation with 1.6g of DHA daily, young women experienced greater improvements in episodic memory, with men enjoying greater improvements in reaction times of working memory, the study found.

Welma Stonehouse, of New Zealand’s Massey University and leader of the study, wrote, “This study showed, for the first time to our knowledge, that DHA supplementation improved memory and RTs of memory in healthy young adults whose habitual diet was low in DHA, and sex modulated the response... These memory-related cognitive domains are the building blocks of more complex cognitive functions or behaviors that are common in everyday life. Thus, young, healthy adults may cognitively benefit from an increased consumption of DHA.”

While cognitive health may not have been a key selling point behind the protein-rich craze of recent years, it is an area rife with potential, should the market for cognitive health foods and/or beverages gain traction among the general public and younger demographics. Already, store shelves have an array of protein-rich options. Kraft Foods capitalized on its Philadelphia brand cream cheese to introduce Philadelphia 2X Protein Cream Cheese Spread with twice the protein (4g vs. 2g per serving) as regular cream cheese spreads. (Found in regular and honey flavor varieties, the product also promises 70% less fat and calories per serving than leading peanut butters.)

With 26g of protein per 325mL bottle, Milk2Go Sport is a ready-to-drink, milk-based protein shake that promises not only to help stimulate muscle repair after workouts, but also to dull hunger. Despite protein’s cognitive potential, the marketing is firmly focused on the workout-recovery benefits of protein.

As Philippe Duhamel, marketing manager at Saputo Dairy Products Canada G.P., explains, “People are increasingly mindful about their protein intake, but are often pressed for time or unsure about what to consume post-workout to ensure proper recovery. . .Milk 2Go Sport was formulated for on-the-go people who are looking for a product that is high in protein with the natural goodness of milk.” 

Milk2Go Sport is available in two flavors (chocolate and vanilla) and is packed with five essential nutrients and vitamins.

Similarly, the Clif Shot Protein Recovery Drink Mix firmly targets athletes, promising fast-absorbing protein to aid in post-activity recovery. Made with 70%-organic ingredients, the mix is formulated with “streamlined ingredients to help the body recover immediately after activity and prepare for the next workout.”

Research further points to greater cognitive health simply by consuming breakfast. The August 2008 issue of Pediatrics explained that those who eat breakfast tend to consumer more of the essential nutrients; have lower body weights and cholesterol levels; and concentrate better/ do better on tests involving cognitive function than those who skip the morning meal.

Considering the role of coffee in the morning routine of so many consumers, a new coffee option from Mars Drinks may well kill two birds with one stone. The business unit of Mars Inc. introduced Steel Horse Coffee last year, a coffee touting circulation-supporting cocoa flavanols and, according to the company, “designed to support the demands of mind and body” by combining the circulation-supporting flavanols with the mental clarity and alertness derived from coffee consumption.

The market for cognitive health products would seem to have a bright future, with a sizable aging population looking to stave off and prevent mental decline; and a young demographic seeking to boost its cognitive ability, alertness and attention. Whether marketers and manufacturers capitalize on the potential is another matter—one that likely will involve significant input from the regulatory side of the industry.