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Septuagenarians reunite for study to fight UK’s greatest fear: older age

4 June 2007

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One thousand volunteers, all about 71 years old, have converged in Edinburgh today (4 June) to mark their participation in a historic scientific study helping combat mental decline.

Called The Disconnected Mind, this extraordinary study will run until 2015 and is a major opportunity to inspire better treatments and to show how lifestyles, diet etc. can delay the onset of mental decline.
The study is being performed by the University of Edinburgh and funded by leading older people’s charity Help the Aged, which is seeking donations for its The Disconnected Mind Appeal. To coincide with the 4 June event, Help the Aged is today releasing findings from its new survey of the UK public, which reveal that mental decline ranks higher (41% of responses) than any other concern about ageing, including big issues like the pensions crisis/lack of savings and fear of isolation. Mental decline often leads to dementia, which the Help the Aged survey reveals is the age-related health condition of greatest concern, with 53% of respondents ranking it above strokes, incontinence and osteoporosis.
Today’s event occurs exactly 60 years to the day after the volunteers took part in the 1947 Scottish Mental Survey, which was a detailed national survey of the mental abilities of 70,000 Scottish 11-year-olds that hasn’t been repeated since. Over the next eight years, the 1,000 volunteers will be re-examined to paint a detailed pictured of a thousand lifetimes of mental development. The scientists will be using the latest scientific tools such as brain scans, DNA tests and lifestyle surveys.
Television actor Richard Wilson (from One Foot In The Grave) who was one of the original 11-year olds in the 1947 Scottish Mental Survey, says: “It will be amazing to see what The Disconnected Mind uncovers about those people who, like me, took part in the original 1947 Scottish Mental Survey. As an actor, I know that we often rely on intuition and guesswork to understand how life can affect an individual. The Disconnected Mind will remove the guesswork and really inform us about which life events and background factors most help or harm our mental development. The value of such knowledge to society and medicine will be immeasurable.”
Professor Ian Deary, leader of The Disconnected Mind research at the University of Edinburgh, says: “Understanding the ageing mind is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science. The Disconnected Mind is at the forefront of this effort and its findings may have enormous implications, helping forge a future that is healthier and less clouded by fear of mental decline. We are delighted to work in partnership with Help the Aged and thankful for the kind support of our 1,000 participants.”