Date:

University Psychologist Dr Alan Gow is looking for volunteers to help with a new study exploring how taking up different activities might help thinking skills as we age.

People often think of changes in their thinking skills in terms of decline. While some people do experience these changes, others do not. The study will explore how taking up a new activity might affect the changes we experience.

Given international trends in ageing demographics, there is an increasing interest in how we might best protect or enhance our thinking skills as we age.

Dr Alan Gow

The study is being led by researchers in the The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt's Psychology Department at the Edinburgh Campus.

Dr Gow, Associate Professor in Psychology and leading the research, said, “One suggestion why some people retain their thinking skills better than others is about keeping mentally, socially or physically active. In our new study, we're going to be asking people to take up an activity they've not done before, to then see how becoming more engaged might benefit their thinking skills”.

Over the course of the study up to 300 adults aged 65 and over will be recruited. They will undergo a range of cognitive and psychological assessments before being asked to take up their new activity. The activities will vary in terms of the mental, social or physical engagement, but might include participating in language classes, taking up a new exercise or sport, meeting new people in social clubs or groups. After following their new activity for 2-3 months, the volunteers will return for repeat testing.

Dr Gow added, “Increasing activity and engagement have been incorporated in interventions for cognitive ageing, though these are often developed and tested in lab-based settings that may not translate to realistic environments. The new study will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age.

Quality of life and independence

“Change in our thinking skills are among the most feared aspects of growing older, and are related to lower quality of life and loss of independence. The project's community-based setting has been designed to reduce barriers in translating the findings for real-world benefit.

“As we age, we may experience general declines in our thinking, memory and reasoning skills (cognitive ageing). There is, however, large variation in the degree of decline experienced. Keeping intellectually, socially or physically engaged have all been proposed as potentially protective.

“Given international trends in ageing demographics, there is an increasing interest in how we might best protect or enhance our thinking skills as we age. The new project is part of an ongoing national and international research agenda exploring how a range of lifestyle factors affect cognitive skills in older people.”

The research team are looking to hear from people aged 65 and over living in Edinburgh and the Lothians who might be interested in taking part.

Details about getting involved can be found on the research team's website, by emailing healthyageing@hw.ac.uk, or by calling 0131 451 8009.