The biggest limiting factor to independence in older people is impaired cognitive function and its consequences. Such consequences include:
- Accident proneness – falls, burns, bruising and cuts,
- Self-neglect – missed medication, not eating properly, failing to keep properly warm, poor hygiene, failure to notice or report medical signs and symptoms,
- loss of initiative,
- diminished repertoire of activities and
- low mood.
The disproportionate vulnerability of the frontal lobes to ageing means that attention and executive function predominate in cognitive impairment, having major detrimental effects on memory, attention, planning, initiative, mood, vigilance as well as self-, safety- and environmental-awareness.
Accidents are a major cause of disability and death in the 65 plus age group. The cause or causes of these accidents is unknown. The focus of this research theme is on the prevention of these accidents due to falls, reduction in executive control, and depression.
Meanwhile the goal of this research theme is to identify and measure behavioural markers which lead to the decline of cognitive function in older people. Behavioural or electrophysiological markers are measurable behaviours or characteristrics of an older person. Knowledge of these markers help the investigators, clinicians or care-givers find ways to modify behaviour or in some way mitigate the problem.
The research will also look at the area of dementia in relation to the decline in cognitive impairment. The hallmark of dementia is impairment in memory and cognition. Dementia is a disease of ageing, and is relatively uncommon in people under 65, but the risk increases steadily with increase age. About 5% of the population over 65 has severe dementia, while 10% have mild problems. By age 80 the figures rise to 20% for severe dementia, and by 90 the figure reaches 30%.
The Cognitive Function Research Strand of the TRIL Centre project examines ways to improve cognitive function to allow older people to have healthier lives and to live independently.