Alzheimer’s Research UK has announced funding of new research at the University of Cambridge and Newcastle University exploring the impact of coronavirus-induced social isolation measures on older people at increased risk of COVID-19.
Dementia is caused by physical diseases in the brain and recent evidence shows that the condition is linked to a higher risk of severe COVID-19. Loneliness has also been linked with dementia and now the UK’s leading dementia research charity will fund research to explore how isolation policies are perceived and how they have impacted mental health, wellbeing, general health, and the use of social care.
Researchers from a large established study of ageing in the UK, the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study ((CFASII)), will get back in contact with 450 of the original 2,500 study participants. The participants will be 77 years and over and based in and around Cambridgeshire, Newcastle upon Tyne and Nottingham.
Volunteers will take part in a telephone interview to discuss the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on them and their household.
The researchers will also explore the support received from others including neighbours and how this has changed since the measures were introduced, comparing them with the rich data received from participants during earlier waves of interviewing.
The COVID-19 response has relied heavily on connectedness through the internet. The team will explore participants’ access to and usage of technology e.g. smart phones, computers or tablets, to see to what extent there has been new usage as a result of the crisis and whether urgent need has enabled new learning and acceptance of an unfamiliar technology.
Speaking about the new funding, Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“COVID-19 is an imminent threat and we all have a part to play in supporting the COVID-19 response. Supporting top scientists like Prof Brayne to use her expertise and resources to conduct research like this is imperative to helping inform future decisions on how to combat loneliness and possibly reduce the burden of this virus on people at risk of dementia.
“Our mission to bring about the first life-changing treatment for dementia remains unchanged and with one million people in the UK living with the condition and no treatments currently able to stop or slow the underlying diseases, we owe it to them to make breakthroughs possible.”
Prof Carol Brayne, who leads the CFAS II study at the University of Cambridge said:
“The government enforced social isolation measures for those aged over 70 years and in at-risk groups due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak have no doubt had a profound impact on those communities both for their physical and mental health.
“Our fantastic study volunteers are representative of the health, wellbeing and cognition of older adults in diverse sites across the UK including Cambridgeshire.”
Prof Fiona Matthews, lead from Newcastle University said:
“This funding will allow us to explore the impacts of, and individual reaction to, government policies on self-isolation due to COVID-19 coronavirus in the elderly. The information collected will provide evidence that can feed into models developed for the impact of such approaches.”