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Major new study into brain ageing

The funding has been awarded to a team from public health, clinical neurosciences and psychology at the University of Cambridge and scientists from the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit who aim to understand how brain ageing in healthy people affects abilities like language and memory.

The new team will be called the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (CamCAN) and will be led by Cambridge Neuroscientist Professor Lorraine Tyler (pictured left) from the Department of Experimental Psychology.

The ageing process does not have a uniform effect across the brain. For example, older people often struggle to recall the right word in a conversation, but can continue to expand their vocabulary throughout old age.

Understanding what structures in the brain account for this variation will be a crucial first step in allowing more people to retain a range of mental abilities throughout their lives.

According to Professor Tyler:

"Our mental abilities don't suddenly start to decline as we enter retirement. In fact, many are retained right into our eighties and we are often too quick to attribute normal lapses like forgetfulness to the effects of age."

"Understanding the complexities of how ageing affects the brain will be crucial for older people to be able to live fulfilled lives and contribute fully to society. We hope that this research will not only add to this understanding, but will also have an important impact on how we view the ageing process, as one of change, rather than inevitable deterioration."

The study is unique in recruiting 3000 people aged 18-88 years, who will be drawn from the general population to create a large library of information on how healthy brain ageing affects mental abilities to different degrees. Not only will this help in identifying older people who might be helped by therapies, but also, the team hopes, will provide a lasting resource for future researchers to draw on.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell said:

"Improving the quality of life of ageing populations is a global research challenge, so it is vital that large studies like this provide data and resources for future scientists all over the world."

The study is funded by one of BBSRC's Strategic Longer and Larger Awards which give world leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance.

Article by the University of Cambridge Press Office.

Posted on 25/05/2010

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