The director of a landmark study into cognitive ageing has paid tribute to the founder of Scotland’s groundbreaking dementia research facility in the inaugural winter conference on degenerative brain conditions.

Ian Deary used his lecture at the Alzheimer Scotland event to honour the work of John Starr, who served as founding director of the charity’s Dementia Research Centre.

Professor Deary, who has led the 20-year Lothian Birth Cohorts (LBC) study into cognitive ageing as part of the Scottish Mental Survey, praised the ‘remarkable’ contribution of Professor Starr in the research - which takes the school intelligence tests results from those born in the 1920s and 1930s and repeats the tests over time.

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The study uses original results combined with ongoing cognitive and lifestyle assessments over the past decade to evaluate why some people’s thinking skills, brains and bodies age better than others.

The study is split into two groups according to the year of their birth - the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, now aged 81 and the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921, now aged 96. Both groups went on to sit an intelligence test at primary school in 1932 and 1947 respectively, as part of the Scottish Mental Survey.

In his address, Prof Deary said the research was vital in determining why some cognitive abilities remain at a good level for longer than others and ways to combat degenerative illnesses.

He told the conference at Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket: “By tracing and re-testing the LBCs in their older age, we have had the privilege of being able to examine factors that potentially contribute to how well people have weathered most of the life course with respect to their thinking skills.”

“Over a very long period of the life course, our team has been able to study ageing of thinking skills.  We acknowledge all those individuals who have been generous in providing a huge amount of information about lifestyles, health, fitness, social factors, psychological factors, brain and vascular imaging, and much more.”

He added: “We have just finished age-82 testing sessions in LBC1936, and we will soon be entering the sixth wave of triennial testing, at average age 85.”

“This is at an important stage, as people move into their mid-80s. The team will be looking more closely at contributors to dementia onset as the people grow older. 

“The fact that Scotland is the only country ever to have tested its entire population’s intelligence, is the basis for our work today. “

As well as regularly resitting the school mental test both groups have undergone medicals every three years, including blood and ultrasound tests, brain scans and retina examinations in older age, and checks such as memory tests.

They have also reported on their diet, social background, activity and feelings of wellbeing.

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Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland, said: “We were honoured to host our Winter Lecture last night in memory of our dear friend and colleague, Professor John Starr. We were hugely humbled that John’s family agreed for us to name our annual lecture event in his name and every subsequent Winter Lecture going forward.”

“There is nothing more fitting for us than to mark the coming together of the dementia community in order to consider and explore research developments in Scotland and beyond in Professor Starr’s name. He was a true inspiration in this field.”

Mr Simmons added: “His close colleague and friend Professor Ian Deary from University of Edinburgh who is the Co-Founder of the Lothian Birth Cohorts studies delivered a hugely informative and engaging lecture last night. His commitment and immense contribution to the research and academic world is truly remarkable.”