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Seeking out the Six-Day Sample

The box of 'research goodies' the surviving participants have been receiving (Copyright: CCACE)

The box of ‘research goodies’ the surviving participants have been receiving (Copyright: CCACE)

Ian Deary, Director of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, is on the trail of a specific group of 76-year-olds. Here he tells us what’s so interesting about these people, and why a new MRC-administered study means they’re receiving an early Christmas parcel to help them provide extremely valuable information.

Back in 1947, Scottish researchers did something unusual. Instead of randomly selecting a group of children and testing them to get a picture of overall intelligence, they decided to test every child born in 1936. On the Wednesday 4 June 1947, more than 70,000 11-year-olds sat down to complete the Scottish Mental Survey.

But, as if that were not enough, the researchers also went one step further. They stayed in contact with the 1,208 children born on 1 February, April, June, August, October and December in 1936, visiting them at home and collecting information on their mental abilities, personality, home circumstances, health, education, occupations and interests almost yearly until they were 27. These people are known as the Six-Day Sample, or ‘Scotland in Miniature’.

They have not been heard from for 50 years, but a new study supported by the MRC-administered Lifelong Health and Well Being initiative is putting that right. My team of researchers is tracking down the once-famous 6-Day Sample members.

We are doing this in two ways. The first is by using Scotland’s rich medical information system to anonymously link the information collected on these people in their youths with records of later death and hospital discharges in Scotland to find out how early life determines later health, illness and causes of death.

The second thing we are doing is sending those of the 1,208 people who are still alive and traceable a box of research goodies (see picture). This box contains a questionnaire on their family, background, education, health, activities and wellbeing. It also contains a few simple instruments such as a measuring tape and a stopwatch for people to measure their health and fitness, and equipment to provide samples of saliva for DNA and stress hormone tests.

We’re doing this so we can link what happens in a person’s early life with their health and wellbeing in later life. This is important, because the more we learn about how early life affects later health, the more we can help people to make healthy choices throughout the course of their life.

It’s an ambitious study. We’re asking people to provide a lot of information and hoping that because they were part of a study for so many years they’ll be willing to help us now.

The Registrar General for Scotland has found more than 500 people from the 6-Day sample still living in Scotland. We have sent them their boxes, and the first completed questionnaires are beginning to come back to us. We think there are also about 100 or so people in England and Wales and they will be hearing from us in the New Year.

It’s such a pity that studying this valuable group of people was dropped when they were 27, but we’re hoping to make up for that now.

Ian Deary

See below for a video about rediscovering the Six-Day Sample made by the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology.

 

Video link for access

 

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