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By Monica E. Oss

Last year we published the results of several new studies on the prevalence (and costs) of dementia that really caught my attention. New stats show that about six million Americans currently have dementia (about 2.4% of the adult population) – with the National Institutes of Health forecasting that by 2060, these numbers will more than double to 15 million Americans (see Forecasting The Prevalence of Preclinical & Clinical Alzheimer’s Disease In the United States). Obviously, this increase will affect costs. The worldwide costs of dementia increased by 35% in just five years, from $604 billion in 2010 to $818 billion in 2015. An estimated 46.8 million people worldwide have dementia, and the costs for this population are projected to exceed $1 trillion by 2018 (see Worldwide Costs Of Dementia Up 35% From 2010 To 2015). On an individual consumer level, the annual care costs for consumers with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) total nearly $120,000 (see Annual Care Costs For Frontotemporal Dementia Total Nearly $120,000). And the average cost of care for an 83-year-old consumer with dementia is $321,780 over approximately five years post diagnosis—compared to $137,280 to care for the same consumer without dementia (see Care Costs For A Person With Dementia Over 5 Years Is $322,000; More Than Twice That For A Person Without Dementia).

What will stem the tide? The pharmaceutical pipeline is slim. Though there is a lot of research taking place, the majority of medications have failed during clinical trials – see The List of Failed Alzheimer’s Drug Treatments Keeps Growing, Another Alzheimer’s drug flops in pivotal clinical trial, and Another Alzheimer’s failure: Axovant’s drug flops in late-stage trial.

So solutions may come from elsewhere. First, there was the study about the “preventability” of dementia through lifestyle choices. Healthier lifestyles are associated with declining prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia—including increasing education in early life, increasing physical activity and social engagement, reducing smoking, treating hypertension, diabetes, and hearing impairment (see Lifestyle Changes Are Effective For Preventing Dementia).

But it isn’t only lifestyle choices that can slow down the progress of dementia. Recently, two other studies related to “brain training” really caught my attention. In the first, computerized brain training focused on increasing older adults’ visual processing speed reduced the likelihood of developing dementia by up to 48% (see Brain Training Reduces Dementia Risk By 48%). And in the second, a report by the National Institute on Aging, on the current state of evidence on interventions for preventing or slowing cognitive decline and dementia, concluded that brain training may prevent cognitive decline and dementia (see Evidence Suggests Cognitive Training May Prevent Cognitive Decline, Dementia).

Could brain training be the answer to the rise in dementia? While saying “yes” is exciting, my first question when seeing these kinds of positive findings is how do clinical leaders of provider organizations fit “brain training” (or neurotechnology) into a consumer service delivery system? More specifically, where will this treatment option fit into health homes and care coordination models, into treatment protocols, and long-term services and supports?

I think the key to planning is to track the scientific findings on the efficacy of these exercise-based options across the wide range of conditions that are currently under study – dementia, depression, epilepsy, hearing loss, incontinence, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, and essential tremors. In just the past couple months we’ve seen possible results for both hearing loss (see Brain Training Improved Age-Related Hearing Loss), and anxiety and depression (see eCBT More Effective For Treating Depression & Anxiety Than Usual Care). There are a lot of questions. But there is also tremendous potential as the field searches for greater (and more consistent value) in improved consumer health status and reduced resource use. Low-cost tech options like brain training could be a great asset – if it is effective.

For more on technology strategy and assessment, check out some of our resources – From Strategic Planning To Tech Strategy – Technology Trends & Decision-Making in Today’s Market Place, The OPEN MINDS Guide To Strategic Planning: Best Practices In A Turbulent Market and The Futurists View of Health & Human Services: A Briefing & Executive Exercise in Strategic Scenario Planning. Just remember, you will want an answer the ultimate question: will an investment in this treatment technology provide a return to your consumers and your organization?

For more on planning ahead for tech, join Alsten Tauro, Senior Consultant, OPEN MINDS and Jim Gargiulo, Senior Associate, OPEN MINDS on February 16, 2018 for the executive seminar, Leveraging Technology For Competitive Advantage: An OPEN MINDS Seminar On Best Practice Technology Implementation, at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

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