For a roundup of our work over the past year, here's our Christmas Newsletter for 2020! From all the team, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.
Earlier this year, Professor Alan Gow gave his Inaugural Lecture at Heriot-Watt University. "Staying sharp – exploring how lifestyles affect our brain health" was attended by over 350 guests, including many of our study volunteers, research partners and collaborators. The lecture explored how our thinking and memory skills might change as we get older.
Studies of ageing that have helped us understand how thinking skills develop and change across the life course and through later life were presented, highlighting how those have helped to identify the lifestyle and behavioural determinants of those changes. The lecture also considered how findings from large observational studies are being translated into real-world interventions in The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt.
You can watch the full lecture here https://youtu.be/RKEY5TAzMyk.
During Befriending Week in early November, Professor Alan Gow was one of the keynote speakers at the Befriending Networks Annual Conference, hosted remotely this year. He spoke about “Social connections and healthy ageing”, exploring the associations between social contact, support and cognitive ageing within the Lothian Birth Cohorts and other studies, and highlighted the Global Council on Brain Health report, from the American Association of Retired Persons and Age UK, on social connectedness and brain health as a key resources on the topic.
In November, Professor Alan Gow led a workshop on “Ageing at work” for Glenmorangie. The workshop was part of a Diversity and Inclusion series developed by Edinburgh Business School, with previous workshops on disability, health and gender led by Professor Kate Sang and Professor Heather McGregor.
Find out more about the Diversity and Inclusivity Masterclass here https://www.hw.ac.uk/ebs/short-courses/diversity-and-inclusivity-masterclass.htm.
Throughout August, the Royal Society of Edinburgh hosted their Curious programme, "events offering insight from some of the world’s leading experts across three key themes of health and wellbeing, innovation and invention and our planet". Professor Alan Gow chaired the Health and Wellbeing Panel, which you can watch here https://youtu.be/5gU4UeQjbGY.
In August, Professor Alan Gow ran a virtual session for Dementia Friendly East Lothian about how thinking skills change across the life course, and the lifestyle factors that are associated with brain health. You can watch the session here https://youtu.be/OaGGAMFjX5o.
Normally at this time of year, preparations are well underway for the arrival of the Fringe and other festivals that take over Edinburgh throughout August.
While plans for 2020 will be quite different, the team behind the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas have not been deterred, ensuring that the shows will go on!
Heriot-Watt contributions include Professor Alan Gow with ‘This Will Make You Sharper!’ on 15 July, followed by Dr Joe Stubbersfield with ‘We’re all conspiracy theorists!’ on 22 July.
You can watch the shows from The Stand on Demand: https://ondemand.thestand.co.uk/Video/TLBUCJ/codi__the_stand_-_15th_july_2020.
Scientists from Heriot-Watt University are launching what is believed to be the world’s first open and remote access living lab to research and create solutions for Ambient Assisted Living (OpenAAL).
The multi-disciplinary lab will target the fast co-creation of scalable and affordable solutions to support the care of vulnerable people whose urgent need has been exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall Winner – Paola Ruffo (SOSS)
Runner-Up – Calum Marr (SOSS)
People’s Choice Winner – Mavis Osei-Wusu (EGIS)
3-Minute Thesis (3MT) is an exciting global academic competition celebrating the innovative research undertaken by PhD students, which was originally developed by the University of Queensland, Australia. 3MT participants present their research to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes using one slide, developing students’ academic, presentation and communication skills. Research Futures Academy provides bespoke training for students taking part in 3MT, including workshops on slide design, how to prepare presentations, and voice coaching skills.
We’ve been working with Cycling Without Age Scotland over the last few years. The organisation helps older people, particularly those living in care homes, get outdoors on specially designed trishaws. Cycling Without Age started in Denmark in 2012 and has spread to over 50 countries, arriving in Scotland as a trial based in Falkirk in 2017.
In our latest work conducted by Ryan Gray, we explored the mental health and wellbeing benefits of the activity for participants. In a small study, volunteers completed assessments of their mood and wellbeing before and after going on a ride. They also completed the same assessments on days they didn’t go on rides. On no ride days, their mood and wellbeing scores remained generally stable over a period of about 30-40 minutes. On ride days, there were improvements in all the mood and wellbeing scores.
We also took video recordings during the rides, and those were analysed for the facial expressions and emotions shown. Ryan was supported in rating those by Shana Farghat, one of our undergraduate Psychology students at Heriot-Watt participating in the Volunteer Research Assistant programme. The video study suggested that on average, 24 positive emotional expressions were observed per ride. Adding up the durations, the positive emotional expressions lasted 140 seconds on average, versus just over one second for the negative emotional expressions. As well as there being more positive emotions, these were rated as more intense.
The results were included in our latest research and evaluation report for Cycling Without Age Scotland, which you can read at https://www2.hw.ac.uk/mediaservices/pageflip/CWA_Evaluation_%20Report_2019/, and the peer-reviewed publication is here https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2333721420946638.
Professor Alan Gow joined an international group of experts in a new volume on cognitive ageing, “The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Aging: A Life Course Perspective”, now available to purchase (see https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/cambridge-handbook-of-cognitive-aging/A105C176F68CF56261A249562AB532C5).
In over 700 pages and more than 30 chapters, the handbook offers a comprehensive review of the latest research on the topic, from models and mechanisms of cognitive ageing to the role of cognitive, social and biological factors in the process. Alan’s chapter, “Associations between activity participation across the life course and cognitive aging”, builds on work with the Lothian Birth Cohorts and contributes an overview of studies examining the modifiable factors that may protect the brain and cognitive abilities, such as participation in mental, physical and social activities across the lifespan. While the cognitive benefits for some of these activities are not uncontroversial, the chapter sends a clear message that there is no harm in staying active and engaging in new activities.
New findings revealed in a BBC documentary have shown how our thinking skills change through our life span.
The programme, which features Heriot-Watt University Professor Alan Gow, explores how gender and age can affect our intelligence and how our lifestyles can have benefits for brain health.
Devised by researchers at Imperial College, London, over 250,000 people around the UK took part in the Great British Intelligence Test, with the results being presented during the BBC’s Horizon programme by Dr Hannah Fry and Michael Mosley.
While not involved in the survey, Professor of Psychology, Alan Gow, was asked to comment on the findings and shed light on how other studies suggest we might protect our thinking skills with age.
Watch the programme here https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000hy39.
Making the most of existing technology and gaining new skills during the coronavirus lockdown could help combat social isolation, particularly among older people.
That is according to Professor Alan Gow from Heriot-Watt University’s Department of Psychology, who says the impact of the coronavirus means it's as important as ever to explore positive activities to maintain health.
Professor Gow works at the University’s Ageing Lab in Edinburgh and examines at how lifestyles and behaviour affect our health as we get older.
In The Ageing Lab, we explore how different kinds of activities might help protect our thinking skills. To find out more, dip into Heriot-Watt's research bites for a taster of how we can stay sharp.
Professor Richard A. Williams OBE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, invites you to attend the Inaugural Lecture of Professor Alan Gow.
As we get older, we might experience some changes in our thinking and memory skills. There is variation from person to person in the degree of change experienced; some people might experience declines that limit their ability to live independently, while others maintain their thinking skills throughout later life.
Studies of ageing have helped us understand how thinking skills develop and change across the life course and through later life, and importantly, identify the lifestyle and behavioural determinants of those changes. There are important questions about when such lifestyles might be most beneficial, or how other factors such as educational and social background might affect their apparent benefits.
The findings from these large observational studies are being translated into real-world interventions at The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt. Find out more at Professor Alan Gow's Inaugural Lecture. Register for a free ticket here.
More information on the Inaugural Lecture Series.
The Times: How to exercise to boost your brain
Ella Rhodes reports on the Nature Research Awards.
The winner and runners-up of the first Nature Research Awards for Driving Global Impact have been announced. The awards, for early-career researchers, aim to celebrate those whose work has made, or has the potential to make, a positive impact on society and this year focused on brain science.
You can read recent updates in the News section.