Neurons Inside Brain

Dementia is said to be a grave loss of cognitive capability in a previously-unimpaired person, further than which could be anticipated from normal aging. UCL’s Deafness, Cognition and Language research centre is said to be part of a project to enhance early detection and management of dementia among Deaf people who use British Sign Language.

The research may investigate how to recognize dementia among Deaf people and find out how they may deal with this condition. The research may also look in to ways to offer support services for the Deaf community and could craft evaluation tools in British Sign Language (BSL).

Professor Bencie Woll, Director of UCL’s Deafness, Cognition and Language research centre (DCAL), commented, “Early identification of dementia brings many potential benefits, including access to medications, more time for people with dementia and their families to make decisions about care and support, and the potential for a better quality of life. For Deaf people, the current lack of information in BSL and poor awareness in the Deaf community about dementia, combined with no diagnostic tools in BSL, means early identification is unlikely to happen. This research project aims to resolve that problem.”

The UCL team is set to work with colleagues at The University of Manchester, City University, and the Royal Association for Deaf people, thereby joining Deaf and hearing researchers from a variety of disciplines, counting dementia care, social work, old-age psychiatry, psychology, Deaf studies and Sign Language research.

Lead researcher Professor Alys Young, from the Social Research with Deaf People programme at The University of Manchester, commented, “Nobody knows whether Deaf people are more or less likely to experience dementia than hearing people. Our assumptions about what might be valued in care and support are based on hearing people’s preferences, not rooted in an understanding of Deaf people’s cultural experiences. Information about dementia and related services does not exist in Deaf people’s preferred or only language – BSL. There are no validated assessment tools in British Sign Language for diagnosis of dementia among Deaf people and using assessments designed for English speakers with an interpreter can lead to misunderstandings; some terms do not mean the same thing to people from different cultures.”

The scientists would examine usual ageing amongst Deaf signing people with several Deaf people who come together on a yearly basis for a holiday arranged by the English Deaf Darby and Joan Club.

The team may also work with Deaf people who have been identified with dementia and their jobs to survey their experiences of living with the illness, their priorities for care and how to enhance early diagnosis and support services.