Healthy Deaf Older Brain Project

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The Healthy Deaf Older Brain Project is funded by the Alzheimer's
Society as part of the broader Deaf with Dementia project. The project will profile of normal ageing within the Deaf
Community so that we can understand healthy cognition, memory and
ageing in this group. This information will be used to develop a
screening instrument for dementia in BSL that is culturally
appropriate and normed for the Deaf population. This project is
important because it allows us to benchmark normal cognition and to
develop a new healthcare clinic for deaf people with neurological

We are grateful to the England Deaf Darby and Joan (EDDJ) Club for
their huge support with this project and to all the members of the
older deaf community who have taken part.

From 2010-2011 data was collected from 226 older deaf people aged
50-89 years and the information was used to develop and norm new tests
for clinical use:

  • BSL-Cognitive Screening Test - a test for detecting cognitive

impairment and dementia in older signers

  • BSL Verbal Memory and Learning Test - a memory test for BSL signs used

to detect problems with memory in BSL users

  • Visually Presented Digit Span Test- a test of serial working memory

This work allowed us to work with the National Hospital for Neurology
and Neurosurgery to set up a new monthly Cognitive Disorders Clinic
for deaf people.

BBC See Hear featured our work in an item about dementia and our plans
to develop a new screening test to allow earlier diagnosis, in
November 2010. They filmed us collecting data from healthy deaf
volunteers at an EDDJ week attended by over 800 older people at
Pontin's holiday camp in Lowestoft. In October 2012, BBC See Hear
broadcast an excellent follow up item which showed the tests being
used in the new hospital clinic, along with moving personal stories
from families affected by dementia about the crucial importance of
early diagnosis. You can view these here.

Next Steps: We are now collecting more data from older deaf people
using tests of executive function which measure cognitive flexibility,
planning and inhibition, as well as measures of sign language fluency
and wellbeing. We have received additional funding towards this work
from Deafness Research UK.

Update: Following a successful week of data collection at the EDDJ
week at Butlins Holiday Camp in Skegness, we have tested 127 deaf
people aged 50-89 years. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting the
holidaymakers and wish once again to thank everyone who gave
generously of their time and the EDDJ committee for their unwavering
support and goodwill.