Heriot-Watt's Psychology Department, which is part of the School of Social Sciences, is calling for volunteers from the Edinburgh and Lothians to participate in a major research study examining how thinking and memory skills change as we age.
The study will include 300 adults aged 65 and over who will undergo a range of cognitive and psychological assessments before they start their new activity.
The activities chosen will vary in terms of the mental, social or physical engagement, but might include participating in language classes, taking up a sport or meeting new people in social clubs. After following their activity for two to three months, the volunteers will return for repeat assessments.
Dr Alan Gow, from the department's Ageing Lab, explains: “Changes in our thinking skills are among the most feared aspects of growing older and can be related to a lower quality of life and a loss of independence.
“People often think of these changes in terms of decline. While some people do experience this, others don't. One suggestion for why some people retain their thinking skills better than others is because they keep mentally, socially or physically active.
“In this study, we are asking people to take up an activity they haven't done before, to see how becoming more engaged might benefit their thinking skills.
“In contrast to other studies which have been developed and tested in lab-based settings that may not translate to the real world, our study will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes. We have designed it so that the findings will have real-world benefit.
“As we age, we may experience general declines in our thinking, memory and reasoning skills. There is, however, large variation in the degree of decline experienced. Keeping intellectually, socially or physically engaged have all been proposed as potentially protective.”
According to the research group's recent “What Keeps You Sharp?” survey, almost 9 out of 10 people living in the UK believe there are things that can be done to maintain or improve thinking skills as we get older while two out of three people feel it is important to challenge the mind or to be physically active in terms of maintaining or improving thinking skills.
Dr Gow continued: “We look forward to hearing from residents living in the Edinburgh and Lothians who are interested in taking part in this study to better understand if and how different activities might benefit our thinking skills.”
 UK-wide survey “What Keeps You Sharp?” representing the attitudes and beliefs of more than 3000 people across aged 40 and over. Source: The Ageing Lab, Heriot-Watt University