Whose mind is it, anyway? Individual and collective responsibilities in cognitive ageing

Cynthia Forlini1,

1 Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney

As the world’s population ages, governments and non-governmental organizations in developed countries are promoting cognitive health to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline and sustain economic productivity in an ageing workforce. Recommendations from the Productivity Commission (Australia), Dementia Australia, Government Office for Science (UK), Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (USA), Institute of Medicine (USA), among others, are encouraging mental, physical, and social activities, to maintain cognitive health in later life. Prioritizing cognitive health is a beneficial strategy on economic and public health levels. However, it is unclear whether these economic motivations and prevention strategies resonate with the ageing population on individual and social levels. In this presentation, I address these individual and social interests. First, I demonstrate that the policy and popular messages about healthy cognitive ageing imply an individual responsibility to care for the ageing brain. Second, I argue that this approach to healthy cognitive ageing is challenged by social factors including: (1) the influence of socio- economic factors on lifestyle, (2) the role of stigma in the marketplace for products related to healthy cognitive ageing and (3) the emphasis of economic benefits over the individual benefits. This analysis of policy recommendations for healthy cognitive ageing will help to understand the expectations and pressures that ageing individuals face as they grow older in a society that values productivity. I propose that policies can balance the interests of society and ageing individuals if stakeholder preferences and perspectives are examined and incorporated into recommendations for healthy cognitive ageing and popular definitions of successful ageing.


Cynthia Forlini is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney. Her current work addresses the neuroethics of cognitive ageing.