New Programme to Help Prevent Dementia by Enhancing Cognitive Function Awarded €2.5 million

Posted on: 03 November 2009

A new programme that aims to help prevent dementia and cognitive impairment among older people by enhancing cognitive function through new combinations of brain stimulation, mental training and pharmaceuticals has been awarded €2.5 million. The grant will enable Trinity College Dublin's Institute of Neuroscience, in collaboration with St James's Hospital, to pilot the programme called Neuroenhancement for Inequalities in Elder Lives (NIEL).  NIEL's aim is to develop a new model for the early detection and prevention of dementia which can be replicated internationally.

The initiative, funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, will be led by TCD's Professor of Psychology, Ian Robertson, in conjunction with Professor Brian Lawlor, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry and Consultant Psychiatrist at St. James's Hospital who will be its clinical director. 

Growing old is associated with a greatly increased risk of several conditions that impair memory and associated cognitive function, including stroke, depression and dementia. Eighty per cent of people over 80 suffer from one of these disorders. Ageing also can erode cognitive capacities, particularly in people with a history of social, educational and economic disadvantage.

Education physically shapes and builds the brain while neglect, deprivation, social isolation, disempowerment and many types of illness damage it. The effects of educational disadvantage last throughout life, while education can positively impact on brain function at any age, and strongly predict lower risk for neurodegenerative diseases, general health, poverty, mental health and social engagement into old age.

Commenting on the pilot programme, Professor Ian Robertson said: "Perhaps the greatest source of inequality worldwide is the disadvantage that arises from impaired brain function. Older people of all ages, nationalities and classes suffer disproportionately from this disadvantage, which sabotages their ability to contribute to society, and maintain a rewarding and happy life. This inequality is increased in older people with early educational disadvantage. Through this programme we aim to tackle some of these inequalities by trying to develop preventative strategies which detect very early signs of failing cognitive function and use new combinations of brain stimulation, mental training and pharmaceuticals to try and slow or arrest further decline. "

To achieve improved levels of well-being, independence and sense of empowerment in elderly people, NIEL's work will be carried out in partnership with a number of relevant Irish and international institutions and programmes. 

About the Atlantic Philanthropies:

The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.  Atlantic focuses on four critical social problems: Ageing, Children & Youth, Population Health, and Reconciliation & Human Rights.  Programmes funded by Atlantic operate in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Viet Nam.  To learn more, please visit: