Cambridge Doctoral Training Centre

Looking into 20 years of observational data in the Cognitive Functional Ageing Study 

Lead supervisor: Professor Carol Brayne
Additional supervisors: Professors Stephen Wharton, Antony Arthur, Judith Phillips, David Melzer, Linda Clare; Drs Blossom Stephan, Shirlene Badger, Kate Bennett, Cherie McCracken
Grant type: Doctoral Training Centre
Amount: £350,000

What is a Doctoral Training Centre?

Alzheimer's Society Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) aim to create a cluster of PhD students and clinical fellows working on themed area of dementia research. In addition to generating new knowledge on the theme, the DTCs will also provide support and training to develop the next generation of dementia research leaders.

Why did we support this? Comments from our Research Network:

'I think the capacity for improving dementia research, through transdisciplinary training embraced by the CFAS network would be of great benefit and the research would be well disseminated.'

'The multi-institutional /disciplinary aspect of this application, and the wide range of pertinent projects, would provide students with a rich research environment.'

'I like the emphasis on lifestyle factors. There seems to be no shortage of ideas for study.'

What do we already know?

The Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies started over 20 years ago in six sites in the UK. Over 18,000 people aged 65 and over from these sites were recruited and interviewed from whole population. From this work researchers have been able to measure the number developing dementia over time, how long people who have developed dementia might live on average, and associated factors such as behavioural and psychiatric disorders. They have also examined risk and protective factors. This has contributed to the debate on the nature of dementia, its underlying biology and what findings mean in whole populations.

This has also included a brain donation programme, one of only three population-based brain donation programmes across Europe. The CFAS brain bank has over 570 brains from people who have been followed over the years. 

Over the last five years the original study has been repeated. That is, is the current generation of people aged 65 and over different in health and dementia related factors when compared with those from the earlier study, two decades earlier. These studies are unique worldwide as they have many institutions and disciplines involved. CFAS includes collaborators from social policy and economics, primary care, old age psychiatry, neurobiology, genetics and genomics, nutrition, epidemiology and biostatistics.

What will the students in this DTC investigate?

Among the areas of research is a study into the effect of social engagement and social networks on the risk of developing dementia. There is already limited evidence that stronger and larger social networks may be linked to reducing the risk of dementia. The team hope that the data from CFAS will be able to give a better understanding by looking at living situations, lifestyles and cognitive health.

Another project will work understanding study participants' views regarding 'reconsent'. This is where study volunteers may need to give their permission again when the design of the study changes. This might be when their data is shared as part of a larger study or where the focus changes from observation to intervention.

One student will investigate the risks of using multiple medications for people with dementia, and further understand the perceptions of using these medicines amongst the people affected and their carers. 

The final project will use data from CFAS to investigate the changes to how mild cognitive impairment is diagnosed and to better understand the risks behind progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

How will this benefit people affected by dementia?

Each of the potential research projects has outputs which are directly relevant to people with dementia - some through findings which might affect policy, others which might affect local service design, and others which might suggest novel avenues to explore for therapeutics and management.

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