The challenges of an ageing population to be discussed at Café MED

The challenges of an ageing population to be discussed at Café MED

The challenge of an ageing population and related increased economic and social burdens will be discussed at the next event in the University’s popular Cafe MED series today (Monday, May 13) at the Suttie Centre Cafe at Foresterhill.

Professors Alison Murray and Lawrence Whalley will describe how meeting the challenge of the dementias of old age needs careful planning of resources for early diagnosis. They will go on to discuss how estimation of dementia risk will improve, and how our community responds to the burdens of care.

Professor Murray will present two conflicting pieces of information, firstly that dementia cannot be diagnosed on a brain scan alone and secondly that a brain scan can demonstrate what kind of brain damage is causing dementia. This is important because knowing the underlying cause of dementia is crucial to planning treatment and predicting the course of dementia.

Professor Murray, who will also be discussing recent findings that may help to prevent dementia, said “Brain scans alone will not provide sufficient information to identify those without symptoms who are at greatest risk of dementia. Other techniques from molecular biology and psychology will be needed. These novel methods come at a cost. For example, if our best predictors of an individual dementia risk prove to be genetic tests, how costly will that clinical genetic service prove in practice?

Professor Whalley will emphasise how difficult it is to predict numbers of old people with chronic disabilities including dementia.

He said “Successive Governments have steadily increased estimates of numbers of people aged over 85 by 2031. These are now double what they were in 1990. Estimates of numbers needing long term care require many assumptions. Will the general health of old people continue to improve? Will the rising obesity epidemic increase numbers with diabetes or heart disease?”

The prospects of effective treatments of the dementias of old age remain distant. So far, no clinical trial has given good cause for optimism. This means that at our present state of knowledge we can not stem the rising tide of dementia.

Professor Whalley will point to the history of epidemics and show how these were first controlled through social change and only later prevented through clinical laboratory science, suggesting that the stop-gap answer to dementia in our ageing society may be better replaced by a more fundamental cultural change.

The café MED series is run by the Public Engagement with Research Unit at the University of Aberdeen. The event commences at 6pm in the Suttie Building at the Foresterhill Health Campus and is free to attend.

 As with all café discussion events, everyone is welcome and there is no need to book. The full programme of this and other café series is available at

Cafe MED is supported by a science engagement grant from the Scottish Government.