Can taking up new activities improve the health and wellbeing of older people?

Professor Alan Gow performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Can taking up new activities improve the health and well-being of older people? How do our thinking skills change as we age? Do our lifestyles affect those changes? These are the key questions directing research being undertaken by Dr Alan Gow and his team in The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University.

What goes on inside the Ageing Lab?

The Ageing Lab explores how being active and engaged in later life might help to reduce or delay age-related mental decline. Our current project is ‘The Intervention Factory’ which considers community-based activities as potential interventions for cognitive ageing. We are gathering clearer evidence on which real life activities might deliver brain health benefits.

How do you gather the evidence?

We are asking people aged 65 and over to take up a new activity in real community based settings and looking at how the mental, physical and social challenges associated with those activities might lead to improvements in their thinking skills. What’s important is that the activity must be novel to the person involved, so our volunteers are trying activities such as learning a new language, joining a social group or undertaking a different physical activity.

Can anyone over the age of 65 take part in your study?

We’re into the final stages of this study, but we’re always delighted to hear from people who might want to know what we find out, or to get involved in new study opportunities. The best way to get in touch is by emailing, and you can find more information about our work on our website.

Have you seen any results yet?

‘The Intervention Factory’ study is due to finish this summer, however, one of our previous studies ‘The Tablet for Healthy Ageing’ produced some interesting results. The project explored how learning to use a tablet computer might benefit the thinking skills of people aged 65 and over and the results showed those individuals in the tablet training group improved the speed of their thinking skills.

In what way do you expect the results of your studies to improve lives?

We’re aiming to understand how different combinations of social, mental and physical engagement might be beneficial, and to clearly identify the lifestyle and behavioural factors that contribute to the health of our thinking skills as we age. Ultimately our goal is to use that knowledge in order to develop new interventions.

Alan is one of six researchers from Heriot-Watt University taking part in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. Alan will appear in “This Show Will Make You Sharper!” on 10 and 14 August 2019. Tickets are available on The Stand website.