Policy & Practice

In 1901, the life expectancy of a newborn baby in the UK was 47 years. In 1999, it was 77 years. This increase in longevity was one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, but it has created a wide variety of medical, social and scientific challenges.

The growing number of older people with cognitive impairment and dementia in the UK is an issue of major significance for the NHS, local authorities and care providers. According to Age UK, some 800,000 people already suffer from severe cognitive decline, and this figure is predicted to double in the next 20 years.

The UK’s Research Councils have recognised that a better understanding of ageing needs a multi-disciplinary approach, and have joined forces to fund a major research initiative into Lifelong Health and Wellbeing. The Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology has been set up as part of this research programme.

The Centre's scientists are developing new methods to look at the brain and test how well it is working. They also want to study whether there is a link between our cognitive abilities early and late in life. Finally, they are studying whether the way our brains age is affected by our lifestyle as well as genetic, social, economic and psychological aspects of our lives. Some of this research is being funded by Age UK’s Disconnected Mind project.

The Centre’s scientists want their findings to make a practical difference to people’s lives. This might be by identifying lifestyle changes that slow down cognitive decline or by developing new drugs that lessen the cognitive deterioration associated with dementia. It might be by developing tests that detect the onset of difficulties with skills like multi-tasking, which are important for independent living. A better understanding of age-related cognitive decline might lead to improved care environments for older people.

The Centre also wants to raise general awareness of cognitive ageing. One way of doing this is through exhibitions such as Transformation: Life Portraits. Ultimately the Centre’s goal is to help people maintain mental well-being for as long as possible.

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