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The Ageing Lab

Exploring interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of older people

News archive 2017

Senior Visitors project underway

Senior VisitorsIn collaboration with colleagues at Edinburgh Napier University, the new Senior Visitors project got underway at the National Museum of Scotland. A group of volunteers will participate in weekly visits to tourist attractions in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas, including the Camera ObscuraNational Museum of ScotlandTrinity House, and Rosslyn Chapel. The pilot project, funded by Interface, aims to develop a specific series of visits aimed at adults aged 75 and over, and explore how participation in the programme might benefit their health and wellbeing.

The visits will continue into February next year when feedback from the volunteers and partner organisations will be collated and reported.

December 2017

Neuroscience and Public Policy: Understanding, Questioning, Deliberating

Event report from Martyn Pickersgill: Research on the brain is increasingly drawn upon in policy-making and family services, with consequences for parenting advice and parenting practices. Especially in the early years of children’s lives, infant brains are said to grow rapidly, and this notion has informed policies around parenting and services for parents. Policy and services relating to older adults as well have come to link increasingly with neuroscientific notion and findings.


December 2017

Want to be a tourist in your own city?

Participant recruitment posterWe’re developing a programme of activities at various visitor attractions in and around Edinburgh (inclduing the National Museum of Scotland and Camera Obscura). We’re looking for people aged 75 and over to test that new programme.

If you agree to participate, we’ll arrange a time to call to ask you some general questions and collect basic information from you, and give you more details about the visits. The visits to the attractions will occur from December to February. After the series of visits has finished, we’ll ask for your thoughts about the programme.

If you’re aged 75 or over and would like to take part, please get in touch. If you know anyone else who might be interested, you can also download and share a poster.

November 2017

Team welcomes Calum Marr

Calum MarrAt the start of the new academic year, The Ageing Lab and the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University were delighted to welcome Calum Marr as a PhD Student. Calum will be supervised by Dr Alan Gow and Dr Michaela Dewar, having previously completed his undergraduate studies and an MSc at the University of Edinburgh.

Calum said "I'm really excited to be joining such a great team, working on a project that could have a real impact not only on our understanding of cognitive ageing, but on the lives of older people".

Calum joins the research team of the Intervention Factory project, alongside Dr Ria Vaportzis and Malwina Niechcial. The three-year project funded by Velux Stiftung is testing a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age.

September 2017

When it comes to keeping our brains young, we need to rise to new challenges

As we get older, our thinking skills often deteriorate: we get slower, more forgetful, less good at learning new things. Yet not everyone experiences these changes to the same degree. Some remain mentally sharp into their sixties, seventies and beyond; others experience declines which can make it harder for them to live independently.


September 2017

What Keeps You Sharp? at the Fringe

Edinburgh Fringe 2017Researchers again took centre stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas.

Now in its fifth year and with its biggest programme to date, the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is coordinated by the Beltane Public Engagement Network and sees academics from all Edinburgh universities sharing their work in the middle of the world’s largest arts festival (importantly, no PowerPoint allowed). This year, Alan Gow returned with a new show called “What Keeps You Sharp?” exploring how thinking skills change with age and what affects those changes, a collaboration between Heriot-Watt and the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Epidemiology.

Alan based “What Keeps You Sharp?” on The Ageing Lab's recently completed nationwide survey of the same name, in which over 3000 people aged 40 and over from across the UK participated. The show appeared twice in the programme, with over 180 people attending across the two dates. The Fringe audiences were asked to consider questions including “When do our thinking skills start to decline?” and “Are the changes in thinking skills due to our genes or lifestyles?”. Each question led to discussion of the audience responses, how those matched the nationwide survey, and then back to the latest research findings.

The key question was, of course, “What keeps us sharp?” and the audience suggestions allowed reference to many of the research findings from the Lothian Birth Cohorts studies at Edinburgh: smoking and thinning cortical layers, the effect of coffee drinking of thinking skills, physical activity and brain volumes, Mediterranean diet and alcohol, being just some of the topics explored.

Alan said “It was great to be back at the Fringe, and particularly pleasing to see so many people keen to explore how, when and why our thinking skills change as we age. One of my shows was a Saturday night so I was a little apprehensive that I might end up in a room by myself! I needn’t have worried as there were only a few spare seats, and thankfully audiences at both performances were eager to share their ideas and questions too”.

“Thanks has to go to those who helped along the way, from colleagues in my research team, school, and Heriot-Watt Engage, to Iona at CCACE for, among other things, her expert trailer directing and editing. The team at Beltane are also hugely supportive, and I would recommend taking part to anyone with a passion for sharing their research in what might be considered a non-traditional environment.”

August 2017

Cycling project helping older people to get on their bikes

A project enabling older people living in care homes to get ‘on their bikes’ and which has gained international attention is to be evaluated by psychologists at Heriot-Watt.

Cycling Without Age Falkirk featured in a recent BBC3 short film as part of their Amazing Humans series which has been viewed over 25 million times. Cycling Without Age is a global initiative that began in Denmark in 2012 and has since spread to over 30 countries.


August 2017

Heriot-Watt Researchers explore Dangerous Ideas

Are robots going to take over the world? Why do ‘senior moments’ happen to some and not others? Where should we draw the line with doping in sport? Heriot-Watt Academics are taking to the stage in August to answer some of these questions, as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas.

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, now in its fifth year, is a unique programme of events that offers the public an opportunity to engage with world-class researchers in an educational yet entertaining environment.


July 2017

Funding for new Senior Visitors project secured

InterfaceA pilot project in collaboration with Professor Anna Leask and Professor Paul Barron at Edinburgh Napier University has been funded by Interface. The Senior Visitors project represents a partnership with the Camera ObscuraNational Museums ScotlandHistoric Environment Scotland, and Rosslyn Chapel to develop a programme to attract and engage older people at visitor attractions. The project will begin in November 2017 and consist of a series of specially planned visits for adults aged 75 and over.

July 2017

Volunteers needed for new ageing research

Participant recruitment posterUniversity 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 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”.


Can taking up a new activity help improve our thinking skills as we age?

If you’re aged 65 or over and would like to help us find out, please get in touch.

If you know anyone who might be interested in getting involved in our research, you can also download and share a poster and flyer.

July 2017

"What Keeps You Sharp?" at the Edinburgh Fringe

Next month, Lab Director Dr Alan Gow will be one of a number of academics from Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, Napier and Queen Margaret universities returning to the Fringe as part of Edinburgh Beltane's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. His show, "What Keeps You Sharp?", is on August 15th (1.50pm) and 19th (8.20pm) and is a collaboration between the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology. You can watch a short trailer and read the full show description below, and download the flyer here. Follow updates on the show's development via Twitter using the hashtag #WhatKeepsYouSharp and buy your tickets at

What Keeps You Sharp?: Isn’t the expression ‘having a senior moment’ awful? Yet people often think of changes in their mental skills with age in terms of decline. While some people do experience these changes, others do not. So how do thinking skills change through midlife and beyond, and do our lifestyles affect those changes? Join Alan Gow (Heriot-Watt University) to explore results from What Keeps You Sharp?, a nationwide survey about attitudes towards the changes people expect in their thinking skills with age. See how your beliefs match the survey and explore how all that matches current evidence.

July 2017

Brain health in later life

Leading researchers and older people met to discuss the latest research findings on brain health in later life.


July 2017

Volunteers needed for new ageing research

People are being asked 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.

The new study is being led by researchers in the The Ageing Lab ( from Heriot-Watt University’s Psychology Department, Edinburgh.


July 2017

PhD opportunity in The Ageing Lab

We have a new PhD Studentship on cognitive ageing, available from September 2017 in the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University. The successful candidate will join The Intervention Factory, a research study exploring interventions for cognitive ageing funded by Velux Stiftung. Under the supervision of Project Director Dr Alan Gow and Co-Supervisor Dr Michaela Dewar, you will have the opportunity to engage in translational research examining real-world activities as potential interventions for cognitive ageing.

Full details are on the Heriot-Watt University website:

The deadline for applications is 1 August 2017. Informal enquiries can be directed to

June 2017

First Interventions in Cognitive Ageing seminar held at Heriot-Watt

The research team hosted the first Interventions in Cognitive Ageing seminar at Heriot-Watt University. The seminar included a keynote presentation from Professor Kaisu Pitkälä, University of Helsinki, which explored “Is there evidence for prevention of cognitive decline and dementia in older people?”. Libby Archer, Research Manager at Age UK, gave on overview of their recently launched Staying Sharp website, including the research that underpins the recommendations. Copies of the Staying Sharp promotional leaflets and postcards can be requested by emailing

Seminar 2017Seminar 2017Seminar 2017

Elizabeth Bryan, Community Development Coordinator at Age Scotland, spoke about the work of their member groups and presented findings from their recent survey of the Men’s Shed movement. You can download a copy of The Shed Effect report at:

Project Director Dr Alan Gow closed the seminar with a brief summary of the What Keeps You Sharp? survey and updates from The Intervention Factory project. The project is currently recruiting people aged 65 and over to take part; if you know anyone who might be interested in getting involved in this research, you can download and share the participant recruitment poster and flyer.

You can access slides from many of the speakers here. The next Interventions in Cognitive Ageing seminar will be held in 2018. Email to receive details of this and other events.

June 2017

Register for our Interventions in Cognitive Ageing seminar

Interventions in Cognitive Ageing 2017 seminar PosterThe Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University are hosting a special seminar exploring intervention research in cognitive ageing. Professor Kaisu Pitkälä from the University of Helsinki will deliver a keynote presentation, and the recently launched “Staying Sharp” resources from Age UK will also be showcased (, while colleagues from Age Scotland will share some of their community-based initiatives working with older adults encouraging active and engaged lifestyles. Updates on the Ageing Lab’s current research project, The Intervention Factory, will also be included.

The seminar is being held in the Mary Burton Building (G.20) at Heriot-Watt’s Riccarton Campus on 21st June 2017, from 1.30-3.30pm followed by refreshments. All are welcome to attend. To register for the event, please email

You can download a poster here; please circulate the details to any colleagues and networks you think might be interested.

May 2017

‘Keep active’ to stay sharp in later life

Age UK has worked with experts to reveal what might help people to protect their thinking skills as they get older.


April 2017

Staying Socially Active May Help Maintain Mental Fitness

Research links larger social networks to higher cognitive functioning in older adults.


February 2017

PhD opportunity in cognitive ageing (intergenerational engagement)

Colleagues at the Strathclyde Ageing Network have an exciting new PhD studentship on cognitive ageing, starting October 2017 in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Strathclyde. The project will investigate the effects of intergenerational engagement on cognition and wider health and wellbeing. Supervisors will be Dr Louise Brown and Dr Will McGeown (Strathclyde), and Dr Alan Gow (Heriot-Watt University), and we have international experts collaborating on the project (Dr Michelle Carlson and Dr George Rebok, Johns Hopkins University). Full details are on the University of Strathclyde website:

The deadline for applications is 20 March 2017. Informal enquiries can be directed to

January 2017

Team welcomes Malwina Niechcial

At the start of the year, The Ageing Lab and the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University were delighted to welcome Malwina Niechcial as Research Assistant. Malwina joins the team having previously completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Wolverhampton and postgraduate training at the University of Edinburgh. Malwina said she was "Really excited to join the team on the project taking a new spin on ideas about what can be done to preserve thinking skills in later life".

Malwina joins Dr Ria Vaportzis and Project Director Dr Alan Gow as The Intervention Factory research project moves into its second phase. The three-year project funded by Velux Stiftung will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age.

January 2017