One of the things we fear most as we grow old is the decline of our cognitive faculties, and the possible slide into some form of dementia. In the email group of elder women to which I belong, we sometimes share stories of our 'senior moments', of our failure to do joined-up thinking and the stupid situations in which we find ourselves as a result. We share the stories and we share the laughter, because we are a close-knit group all living through the same experience. But even as we enjoy the joke, I am willing to bet that most of us are inwardly fearful. How can we know if we are crossing over the line from 'benign senile forgetfulness', into something more sinister.
Some 800,000 people in the UK, are currently diagnosed with severe cognitive decline, and this figure is projected to double in the next 20 years. But there is hope, if not for my generation, perhaps for the next. Here in the UK an organisation called Research into Ageing, which is run within the charity Help the Aged, is working on a research project called The Disconnected Mind. The project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the lives of older people by unlocking the causes of age-related mental decline:
"In 1947, 70,000 Scottish children took the same intelligence test. The Scottish Mental Survey was the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken and provided a unique and invaluable set of recorded data about the mental ability of an entire cross section of society.
"In 1997 Professor Ian Deary, who is Professor of Differential Psychology at Edinburgh University, began a groundbreaking project to retest this group in older age, in an effort to provide the crucial missing scientific component for research into age-related cognitive decline, and to generate the life indicators which could allow us all to live a healthy active old age. "
But time is running out, as the children who did the tests in 1947 are now in their 70s, and if they are to continue to take part in this research, it must not be held up for lack of funds. The Disconnected Mind has its own website where it is possible to donate on line, and where you can read more about the project and watch some videos. I have been supporting Research Into Ageing for some years, but I have made a special donation to this project.