The impact of global ageing is widely acknowledged as having significant implications for health, society, the economy and policy. This has been recognised in policy, strategy and debate within and across organisations as diverse as the UN, the WHO, the EU as well as national, regional and local governments, public, private and third sectors.
Concerns are being raised about how we can ensure older people experience an active and healthy older age and how we can address the needs of the rising numbers of our 'oldest old' populations (those age 85+) who may make significant demands on our health and welfare systems.
Scientists at Lancaster University are making significant contributions to both early diagnosis and alleviation of some of the worst effects of mental and physiological ageing. Our research work encompasses neuro-generative disease (particularly Alzheimer's and Parkinson's), molecular change associated with the ageing process as well as pathological developments associated with disease. We are also working on the design and development of new technologies to support and enhance the health and well-being older people and their care-givers.
Importantly, however it is Lancaster's reputation for inter-disciplinarity that underpins its strength in the field of Ageing Research. Social scientists at Lancaster are playing an important role in contributing to our understanding of how best to address the needs of older people and their carers in ways that are both proactive and conscious of the need to place dignity, choice and independence at the forefront of care and support for older people.
Whilst this work seeks to answer different sorts of questions to those of bioscience and engineering, it is the strength of this interdisciplinary approach that enables us to gain more detailed insights and offer more effective interventions to support a more successful ageing process.
Scientists at Lancaster in partnership with a local NHS Trust have shown that people with Alzheimer's disease have difficulty with one particular type of eye tracking test and this simple test could hold the key to earlier Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Detailed eye-tracking measurements, taken from Alzheimer's patients and the control group showed stark contrasts in results. Patients with Alzheimer's made errors 10 times more frequently compared to those in the control groups.
Researchers also measured memory function among those Alzheimer's patients who found the test difficult and were able to show a clear correlation with lower memory function. These new results are potentially very exciting as they demonstrate, for the first time, a connection with the memory impairment that is so often the first noticeable symptom in Alzheimer's disease.
In another development, research at Lancaster has discovered that a commonly prescribed diabetes drug could reverse memory loss and the build-up of plaques on the brain linked to Alzheimer's disease. Results from the study, funded by the Alzheimer's Society, show that liraglutide might be able to reverse some of the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease in the later stages of the condition. Developing new drugs from scratch can take many years and cost millions of pounds so repurposing existing drugs as dementia treatments is an incredibly exciting way of bringing new treatments closer.
These are just two examples of how scientists and social scientists can address common issues from different but equally important perspectives.