According to Federal Service for State Statistics (Rosstat), people aged over 60 make a quarter of Russia’s population. The recently introduced pension reform has extended the age of compulsory occupational activity for millions of Russians. However, employers have every reason to fear that an aging employee will hardly work as efficiently as a university graduate due to the diminished ability to remember the information, lower attention span and worse motor skills, as well as the reduced ability to promptly adapt to the ever-changing environment of the information-oriented society. The retirement age increase has taken the issue of preventing premature cognitive disorders among the elderly to the economic scale; now, the government, businesses and citizens themselves start taking efforts to battle dementia.
According to Zurab Kekelidze, General Director of the Russian Healthcare Ministry’s Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry, the issue of preventing cognitive disorders has acquired a global character. The 70th World Health Assembly acknowledged the prevention of senile dementia as a priority, with a global plan on dementia adopted for 2017-2025. In 2016, the Russian Government issued a directive approving an action plan to support the elderly through 2025.
“The action plan’s main goals are preserving and improving health, increasing life expectancy, improving vital services for this particular group of people, protecting their rights and interests, boosting living standards and social well-being, and creating conditions for their active involvement in social life”, Kekelidze says. “The Healthcare Ministry issued an order that regulates organizing the geriatric service as a unified system of long-term medical care through the continuity of patient management in the healthcare system,” he adds.
According to Kekelidze, the Serbsky Scientific Center has conducted research on cognitive performance and age dynamics of higher mental functions in elderly people since 2017. The center specialists received a government order for 2019-2020 for developing medico-psychological and adaptation technologies for adult and elderly persons to provide life and health protection and prolong working life. Health professionals will develop trainings courses aimed to increase the efficiency of cognitive performance as well as intervention programs for improving the ability to process visual and spatial information.
Given the physiological and psychological factors, elderly people constitute a risk group for mental health disorders. Researchers say that the brain volume and weight start to decline around age 30 or 40; by the age of 70-80, 48% of neurons is gone while the remaining nerve cells change their functions. Psychologically, the old age is defined by increased irritability. Given the unfavorable social environment during the retirement period, the old age is associated with poverty, isolation and debility, and the overall picture looks dismal. Most experts believe that the illnesses and infirmities of the old age are generally considered a norm, which is a reason there is an increase in the number of elderly patients treated by psychiatrists.
In 2016, the Wikium online platform appeared on the market, offering an unusual thing for Russia: brain fitness games and programs. The audience at first did not show much interest in online training of reaction, memory and creative thinking, but later the platform gained popularity and now the service’s audience is 3 mln people. The project founder, Sergei Belan, is confident that the more people in Russia understand that cognitive abilities can be improved, the more they can improve the quality of their life.
Belan believes that within the next year, falling behind the Western countries by ten years, brain fitness will become a trend in Russia. Wikium analysts think that businesses will show a growing demand in investing in the health of their employees’ brains. The company now has large corporate clients who want to check and improve their employees’ cognitive abilities, thus reducing the possible expenses related to human performance.
“For large companies, such as VTB Bank, M.Video, the Moscow Exchange and LUKOIL, as well as 40 other companies in the banking, oil and gas and educational sectors, our brain training programs have become a solution to develop the abilities of their employees and improve their performance,” Belan says. “The level and efficiency of cognitive abilities directly affect the performance in the social and working environment. Not in the near future maybe, but I think this initiative will be adopted at the government level as well. I will not speak about it being included in the mandatory health insurance system, Wikium is more of an educational platform, not a medical one, but it would be great if it happened.”
Technologies are improving as well: in 2018, Wikium presented the second version of the platform with a connectable neuro interface that evaluates the efficiency of training. It recognizes various rhythms of the brain that correspond to relaxation and concentration, and users can learn to determine and memorize these conditions, and train the ability to immerse in them when needed.
It is possible to both train cognitive abilities and undergo psychotherapy online.
“Cognitive disorders may be caused by both organic diseases related to the decrease of brain function, and psychological and emotional causes related to depression,” says Elvira Garaishina, a blogger and psychologist. “During the adult life, the feeling of one’s inferiority and guilt may cause depression, which sometimes, unfortunately, ends in a suicide. In such cases a long course of psychotherapy treatment is required. But Russians are only beginning to solve cognitive problems using psychotherapy and not medicines. I must say, in Russia we do have psychological programs of self-assistance that help people cope with cognitive disorders.”
By Anna Oreshkina