Exposure Worry, Ageing and Cognitive Functioning:

An in-depth study of British Nuclear Test Veterans

George Collett, Dr Will Young and Professor Mary Gilhooly.

Recent studies demonstrate a potential link between exposure to ionising radiation with premature cellular ageing and also chronic inflammatory responses and as a consequence, to age-related diseases including those which impact on cognitive function. Additionally, any potential impact of exposure to a nuclear test event on cognitive functioning in old age, years of worry about the potential damage to oneself, and potential genetic damage to one’s children, could itself impact on cognitive functioning. It is well established that stress and long-term anxiety have a negative impact on cognitive functioning.

The aim of this study is to examine factors associated with an important aspect of healthy ageing and quality of life, namely cognitive functioning. A special feature of this study is an examination of ‘exposure worry’ and cognitive functioning. Currently there is no such research on cognitive effects of witnessing nuclear tests among UK or other national groups of test veterans. However this aspect is being explored with increasing priority in relation to populations affected by the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

This PhD project will invite members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Community to participate and will involve data gathering via in-depth interviews and cognitive assessment, using standardized measures of cognitive functioning. This study would add to the growing body of research on the impact of life events on cognitive functioning in old age. The beneficiaries would be all older adults, as knowledge of factors influencing decline in cognitive functioning with age is of interest to older people. The health services would also benefit from a better understanding of factors influencing a decline in cognitive functioning and manifest dementia.