Welsh play a part in dementia research

Dementia numbers in the UK have been in decline over the past 20 years according to results from a large research study which reported earlier this year. Figures in the report from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study suggested that the figures for England, if applied to the whole UK, imply  that there are 214,000 fewer cases of dementia than predicted. That would also mean that there are currently around 670,000 people living in the UK with dementia, rather than the estimated number of 800,000 - 900,000.

To help understand the situation in Wales, Bangor University is leading the Welsh version of this research. The researchers intend to announce specific statistics for dementia rates for Wales next summer.  

The work in Wales is also focussing on how aspects of modern life may be affecting the dementia statistics. The £ 3.3 million project, financed by the Economic and Social Research Council and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, addresses key questions regarding later life and ageing in the 21st century that currently cannot be answered by other sources. These results will influence policy and planning for the ageing population in an era where, by 2025, one in five of the population in the UK will be over 65 and 5.5% over 80. That work is being led by Bangor University with research also contributed by Swansea, Cambridge and Liverpool universities.

Prof Bob Woods, at Bangor University’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC), explains:

“Dementia remains the biggest single challenge for health and social care in the 21st century.

“This large research project is replicating and extending a similar project conducted nearly 20 years ago. The study in Wales will add to our understanding of whether there are psychological and social factors, in addition to improved health and education, which are contributing to the significant reduction in dementia risk.

“For example, we’re looking at whether things such as being bilingual bring benefits in terms of mental agility in later life, and whether people’s social lives and networks play a role in keeping their minds healthy. We’re also looking at what role improvements in nutrition and diet may play in maintaining brain function.”

Dr Gill Windle, of Bangor University, who is leading that part of the work adds:

“People’s lifestyles have change dramatically over the last 20 years. Older people now have very different expectations of life and different lifestyles to those of 20 and more years ago. People are more active and engage in more active leisure activities, as well as having healthier diets, but also their expectations of services aimed at their age group have also changed. The survey will track some of those changes.”

Research at Bangor University has already looked at resilience in older people- how some people are better able than others to cope with the difficulties that crop up in later years. This study will further that research by examining the relationship between resilience and health challenges such as cognitive impairment, and the extent to which people can maintain well-being, with the aim of addressing the question ‘why and how are some people more resilient than others?’

The researchers are conducting interviews with 3,500 randomly selected people aged 65 and over in Gwynedd, Anglesey, Neath & Port Talbot areas.

Publication date: 5 November 2013