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Reunion for unique local residents

A remarkable group of local people, who have contributed to years of research to uncover the key to healthy ageing, have reunited in Edinburgh.

Image of the Lothian Birth Cohort
Lothian Birth Cohort

More than 400 people in their 80s and 90s attended a reunion which took place 70 years to the day since many of them sat an intelligence test in the Scottish Mental Survey 1947, when they were 11 years old.

These unique community members have been working with researchers to chart how a person’s thinking power changes over their lifetime.

Understanding the ageing brain

Researchers are using results from tests taken by participants when they were schoolchildren, and mapping them against tests of their thinking skills and health over the past decade, to conduct a major study into why some people’s brains and bodies age better than others.

The study has involved two groups of people – the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, now aged 81, and the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921, now aged 96. Some of the 1921 group attended the reunion.

The special group met University researchers behind the project at the General Assembly Hall in Edinburgh for an event to mark their achievements on the understanding of the ageing brain.

These anniversaries of Scotland’s national intelligence testing in June 1932 and 1947 are a lovely way to bring these special individuals together to celebrate what they have contributed to ageing science. It’s a happy occasion in which to have a good blether and to swap the pleasures and pains of growing older.

Professor Ian DearyDirector of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology

As well as regularly resitting the school mental test, both groups have taken medical three-yearly examinations, including blood and ultrasound tests, brain scans and retina examinations in older age. They have also reported on their diet, social background, activity and feelings of wellbeing.

Researchers have looked at a number of mental and physical functions of the group as they grow older including memory, speed of thinking and many aspects of fitness and health.

Key Findings

During the reunion of the Lothian Birth Cohorts, scholars reviewed some key findings that have now been published in the journal of Psychological Medicine.

The research has identified key contributors to brain and cognitive health in older age. These include having particular genetic characteristics, being in good physical condition, being active, being more intelligent in childhood, speaking more than one language, not smoking and having more education.

Although the drivers of cognitive and brain health are many, their individual influences are small. Researchers say the key to tackling cognitive ageing successfully is not by addressing any one of these influences in isolation, but by an inclusive approach which includes all or many of these positive factors.

Researchers say the contribution of the group is invaluable in advancing their understanding of the ageing brain.

The findings from the hundreds of older people involved in these groundbreaking studies will not only help us learn what we can do ourselves to protect our thinking skills as we age, but also what education and health care professionals need to do to provide the best support for healthy cognitive ageing.

Tom WrightGroup Chief Executive of Age UK

The charity Age UK has funded the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study.

Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology

 Age UK