Alan Gow Fringe

To celebrate the contributions made by our newly promoted academic colleagues, we invite some of them to tell us a little bit about themselves.

In this instalment of the series, we caught up with Professor Alan Gow, Department of Psychology, SoSS.

Professor Alan Gow explores how our thinking skills change as we age, and how our lifestyles affect those changes. On joining Heriot-Watt in 2013, he set up The Ageing Lab, where he and his team develop and test interventions for healthy ageing, specifically cognitive ageing.

"As we age, we may experience general declines in our thinking, memory and reasoning skills. This is one of the most feared aspects of growing older, and is related to lower quality of life and loss of independence. There is, however, large variation in the degree of decline experienced. Keeping intellectually, socially, or physically engaged have all been proposed as potentially protective. These factors have been incorporated in interventions for cognitive ageing, though are often developed and tested in controlled, lab-based settings that may not translate to realistic environments."

A focus of Professor Gow's work is therefore on real-world activites, such as language and computer classes, exercise groups, or social clubs. "Given ageing demographics, this is an important area, and specifically addresses how non-pharmacological approaches might enhance healthy ageing trajectories. Not only is this of relevance to fields associated with cognitive ageing, but will alow better recommendations to be made in directly advising older people about getting or remaining active, and in the allocation of resources to improve the cognitive health of older adults."

Having published over 130 papers, Professor Gow has been invited to contribute to international expert groups, including the Global Council on Brain Health, and the recently released SAPEA report "Transforming the Future of Ageing," which will be used by scientific advisors to the European Commission to shape policy.

As well as his research, Professor Gow participates in a wide range of public events and activities, from meetings with local older peoples' groups, to appearances at national events including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the British Science Festival. Previous Fringe shows formed part of a programme on "How to Stay Sharp" for BBC Radio Scotland's Brainwaves series. Findings have also been included in Age UK's "Staying Sharp" webpages, which provide advice to the public on factors associated with brain health. These activities led to him being awarded the British Psychological Society Public Engagement and Media Award, and he was one of ten reseachers shortlisted for the Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact.

"As my work concerns what we might do to protect our thinking skills as we age, it is something that touches almost all of us. Speaking to people about brain health directly is one of the most rewarding aspects of what I get to do, as well as working with our partners, such as Age UK and Age Scotland, to get those positive messages to as many people as possible."