Thursday, 14 May 2015

CATCH researchers make an impact at international ageing conference

Researchers from CATCH recently presented work at a major international conference in Dublin on May 24th. The International Association of Geriatrics and Gerontology – European Region (IAGG-ER) conference is among the world’s largest meetings of clinicians, academics, and industry representatives, and service users – all of whom share an interest in aging research. The theme of the 2015 meeting was ‘unlocking the demographic dividend’, which sought to highlight the potentially huge social benefits of an aging society. This theme offered a much-needed counterpoint to many popular representations of aging, which all too often portray older people as a burden on communities and public services.

Dr. Tim Gomersall and Prof. Arlene Astell presented findings from the early stages of the Ambient Assisted Living Technologies for Wellness and Engagement in Later Life (AAL-WELL) project – an international collaboration bringing together psychologists, occupational therapists, software engineers and sociologists to examine the potential for pervasive computing to enhance the independence and community engagement of older people with cognitive difficulties. Their talk described a review of qualitative studies on the experience of living with a diagnosis of ‘mild cognitive impairment’ – a little-known syndrome representing a transitional or boundary state between cognitive aging and dementia. The review showed that receiving a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment could have a far-reaching impact on a person’s sense of self. Yet the label of mild cognitive impairment is one which people struggle to make sense of, and the available studies show how people puzzle over the implications of the diagnosis – for example, whether it means they will go on to develop dementia in future, or if the cognitive difficulties they experienced were part and parcel of the ‘normal’ aging process. Other AAL-WELL researchers presented their ideas: Dr. Eva Lindqvist and Prof. Louise Nygard (Karolinska Institutet) discussed the kinds of everyday activities people with MCI wish to master, and Rajjeet Phull and Prof. Alex Mihailidis (Toronto University) reflected on potential software solutions to support this patient group. Dr. Piper Jackson and Prof. Andrew Sixsmith (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver) rounded the AAL-WELL talks off by considering the variety of theoretical models the researchers had brought to the project from their different disciplinary backgrounds. 

Dr. Gomersall said, “I think that people with mild cognitive impairment are an under-served group. They don’t usually get the kind of cognitive enhancing drugs that people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias do, and the psychosocial services for people with MCI are patchy at best. This is understandable, because researchers have only recently begun looking at MCI in depth, but that doesn’t make things any less frustrating for people living with the diagnosis. Our findings represent an early attempt to understand people’s experiences of MCI, which we hope can be used to develop and improve services in future.” He went on: “Our collaborators in Canada and Sweden are also doing excellent work in understanding the needs of people with MCI, and developing software platforms that could be used to support them in everyday tasks – everything from making safe online payments to cooking the family meal. For our next step here in Sheffield, we are recruiting people with MCI from local clinics to help us think about what methods we should use to evaluate these ICT-based solutions.”

More information on the AAL-WELL project is available on the study website. A full version of the research presented at the conference is soon to be published in the peer reviewed journal, the Gerontologist, as: Gomersall, Astell, Nyg√•rd, Sixsmith, Mihailidis, & Hwang. “Living with ambiguity: A metasynthesis of qualitative research on mild cognitive impairment”. 

Interested readers can also contact Tim Gomersall by email ( to find out more. 

Written by Dr Tim Gomersall

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