Researchers have launched a project to improve early diagnosis and management of dementia among Deaf people who use British Sign Language (BSL), says a statement from the University of Manchester, UK.

The research, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, will examine how to identify dementia in Deaf people and explore how they might best cope with their condition. The study will also investigate how to provide support services for the Deaf community and develop assessment tools in BSL.

The University of Manchester team, working with colleagues at University College London, City University London, and the Royal Association for Deaf people, brings together Deaf and hearing researchers from a range of disciplines, including dementia care, social work, geriatrics psychiatry, psychology, Deaf studies, and sign language research.

“Nobody knows whether Deaf people are more or less likely to experience dementia than hearing people," said the lead researcher, Professor Alys Young, from the Social Research with Deaf People program at The University of Manchester. "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,” he added.

The researchers will study normal aging among Deaf signing people with the help of several hundred Deaf people who come together annually for a holiday organized by the English Deaf Darby and Joan Club. The team will also work with Deaf people with a diagnosis of dementia and their caregivers to explore their experiences of living with the illness, their priorities for care, and how to improve early identification and support services.

“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," said Professor Bencie Woll, at UCL’s Deafness, Cognition and Language research centre, where the BSL assessments will be developed. “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.”

[Source: University of Manchester]