Better support when it gets harder to see, hear or think

Your hearing's shot, your memory is playing up, and your eyesight isn't what it used to be... Many of us will develop two or more of these impairments as we age. Their combined effect on older persons' ability to cope is greater than the sum of its parts, say EU-funded researchers who are working on ways to attenuate this joint impact.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
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  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 13 March 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Research policyHorizon 2020
Success storiesInternational cooperation
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Cyprus  |  France  |  Germany  |  Netherlands  |  Norway  |  Spain  |  United Kingdom  |  United States
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Better support when it gets harder to see, hear or think

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© Bulat #231724910, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com

The SENSE-Cog project is dedicated to the joint effect of age-related cognitive and sensory difficulties, in a bid to improve the quality of life of older persons with dementia.

“At the moment, such impairments are diagnosed, tested and treated individually in isolated pockets, but of course there are tremendous interrelationships between them,” says project coordinator Iracema Leroi of the University of Manchester, United Kingdom.

The SENSE-Cog project runs for four years to December 2020. It is conducting research into the connections between age-related hearing loss, vision impairments and cognitive difficulties, and developing assessment tools that will enable doctors to support patients more effectively.

Within the overall project, a clinical trial is also assessing how interventions to improve the sight or hearing of older persons with dementia might help them to have a better quality of life and even improve their cognition. The trial will also determine what such interventions would imply in terms of cost and possible longer-term savings for health care systems and society as a whole.

SENSE-Cog focuses on giving people with dementia and their care partners a voice, both within the project and in the wider world, says Leroi. ‘We have developed methodology and networks to interact with people who are living with these problems to get their views on the work that we are doing,’ she notes. ‘At the same time, we are using the opportunity to foster links between organisations dedicated to hearing, vision and dementia.’

Analysing the interactions

Establishing how, exactly, one impairment amplifies another is one of the project’s main objectives. To provide an example of these sinister synergies, Leroi mentions situations where assessments of a person’s cognitive abilities are inconclusive because the patient can’t actually hear or read the questions.

The reverse also applies, she adds: tests of hearing ability can produce unreliable results for people with cognitive difficulties who may not quite understand what’s required.

As a result, it can be extremely difficult to establish the precise nature and extent of a person’s problems, Leroi notes – which, in turn, makes it harder to provide effective help for the difficulties that could be addressed. For elders whose ability to make sense of the world is affected by a combination of these impairments, taking at least one out of the equation could make a major difference.

Solutions as simple as providing suitable spectacles or hearing aids could go a long way. And yet, says Leroi, most senior citizens have never even taken a hearing test, and many use glasses made to outdated prescriptions.

Generating awareness and solutions

‘By the end of the project, in December 2020, our broad aim is to have a better understanding of interrelationships between hearing, vision and cognition, and to develop a risk model based on epidemiological data,’ says Leroi.

The team is looking into a variety of aspects, such as levels of anxiety and poor mental health in older persons with hearing and vision loss, for which a high association was found. Another study carried out as part of the project is dedicated to retinal changes as a potential biomarker for changes in cognitive ability linked with the onset of dementia.

The SENSE-Cog team is also planning to produce clinical assessment tools that will be valid for people with combinations of hearing, sight and thinking difficulties, she adds, along with a self-screening system that would enable users to determine if their problems are significant enough to seek medical advice.

By the time the project ends in December 2020, SENSE-Cog aims to provide older citizens and their doctors with new knowledge and practical tools.

Project details

  • Project acronym: SENSE-Cog
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator), Cyprus, Germany, Greece, France, Netherlands, Norway, United States
  • Project N°: 668648
  • Total costs: € 6 868 286
  • EU contribution: € 6 541 591
  • Duration: January 2016 to December 2020

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