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The Ageing Lab

Exploring interventions to improve the health and wellbeing of older people

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New post: Research Assistant in Cognitive Intervention

Applications are invited for a Research Assistant position commencing from January 2017. The Velux Stiftung funded "Intervention Factory" project seeks to explore real-world activities as potential interventions for cognitive ageing. The post will be for 30 months. As part of the research team, you will assist in initiating this new research programme. You will collect psychological and health data, support the coordination and monitoring of the intervention programmes, prepare data and assist with analyses, and contribute to publications and reports. Full details on the post, including how to apply, can be found at: https://www.hw.ac.uk/about/careers/jobs/job_SVJDNjIyOQ.htm.

September 2016


The Great British Brain Off at the British Science Festival

A show by a Heriot-Watt academic was selected for inclusion at the British Science Festival 2016 in Swansea. Read more...

September 2016


The Intervention Factory project begins

Intervention FactoryThe Intervention Factory project officially commenced in July 2016, with Dr Ria Vaportzis joining the team as Postdoctoral Research Associate. 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.

The first phase of the project will launch towards the end of the year and a survey to explore how people understand the changes that occur in thinking skills with age, and the lifestyle factors that might influence those changes.

Read more: Ageing well in the real world.
The National: How to grow old healthily: new study breaks free of the lab to measure impact of real-world activities.

July 2016


Funding secured for new intervention research

Intervention FactoryLater this year, a new intervention study will commence at the Ageing Lab funded by the Velux Stiftung. The Intervention Factory is a three year research study which will test a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing in old age. The project will be directed by Dr Alan Gow and will benefit from input from a local Intervention Factory Forum (comprising colleagues from Age Scotland, NHS Lothian and Edinburgh Council) and an international Advisory Panel (Professor Kaarin Anstey, Australian National University; Professor Ian Deary, University of Edinburgh; Professor Mike Martin, University of Zurich; Professor Kaisu Pitkälä, University of Helsinki; and Age UK).

The project is due to commence next month and a full funding announcement will follow.

June 2016


Research showcase at 50th Anniversary Garden Party

BrainbowThe Tablet for Healthy Ageing results were included in the Innovation Zone as part of Heriot-Watt University’s 50th Anniversary Garden Party. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the award of the university's Royal Charter and the award of the Queens’s Anniversary prize for research. The Innovation Zone, organised by Heriot-Watt Engage, offered hands on experience of the research being conducted across the schools and departments at Heriot-Watt. Dr Alan Gow joined colleagues from the Department of Psychology to showcase research focussed on “Memory, Ageing and the Brain”.

June 2016


The Great British Brain Off returns

In May, Dr Alan Gow performed his “Great British Brain Off” show as part of the Talk Science @ Irvine Bay programme, hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The show was originally created for the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe as part of Edinburgh Beltane’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, and explores the factors that might protect or harm the ageing brain. The audience are encouraged to share their ideas about the key lifestyle ingredients which forms the basis for discussions about how we might best protect our thinking skills as we age. You can access a report from the event, or watch the full show below.

May 2016


Presentations at the Cognitive Aging Conference

CAC 2016Project Director, Dr Alan Gow, presented at the Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in April. Dr Gow presented new longitudinal findings from his research on the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 study at the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, in addition to sharing the intervention results from the Tablet for Healthy Ageing study, the full abstract for which is below.

A Tablet for Healthy Ageing: The effect of a tablet computer training intervention on cognitive abilities of older adults
Eleftheria Vaportzis, Mike Martin & Alan J. Gow

Cognitive ageing is among the greatest fears that individuals have about growing older. Technological development has the potential to provide timely interventions to assist older adults in keeping healthy and independent for longer. To test the acceptability and usability of tablet computers to improve health and wellbeing, 48 healthy older adults aged 65 to 76 (M = 69.3, SD = 3.4) with no or minimal tablet experience were recruited into a randomised controlled trial. At baseline, participants completed a battery of cognitive tests (selected from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale) as well as health, psychological and wellbeing measures. Participants were randomised to an intervention group (tablet training) or control group. The tablet training group attended a weekly 2-hour class for 10 weeks during which they learned how to use a tablet and various applications, and were required to complete activities between classes. Post-intervention testing is scheduled for completion mid-December 2015. To date, 20 control and 22 intervention participants have been reassessed. While both groups had faster processing speed performance on the second occasion, the improvement was significantly greater in the tablet intervention group versus controls. There were no group differences in verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning or working memory. Final results will be presented on completion of retesting. Training in the use of new technology, an example of a new and mentally engaging activity, improved some cognitive functions, and also provided older adults with new skills that are useful in assisting day to day tasks (e.g., navigation).

April 2016


Tablet for Healthy Ageing results go international

In March, the Tablet for Healthy Ageing team continued disseminating the findings from the intervention stage of the study. Dr Ria Vaportzis gave a presentation at the British Council Researcher Links workshop ‘Ageing and Health – How to get there?’ in Sao Paulo, Brazil (14-16 March). Ria also presented the study’s findings at Neuroscience Day 2016, organised by Edinburgh Neuroscience (University of Edinburgh).

A paper discussing the tablet intervention results is currently in preparation, and full details will be added to the Publications page as this progresses.

March 2016


Post-intervention focus groups completed

The final stage of the Tablet for Healthy Ageing study has been completed. Fourteen participants who received tablet training last year took part in post-intervention focus groups at Heriot-Watt University. Participants discussed how tablets were helpful in assisting them with their everyday lives, the advantages and disadvantages of using a tablet, and provided a general account of their tablet training experience. The focus group data are being analysed and results will follow later in the year.

The Tablet for Healthy Ageing team is currently disseminating the findings of the study. Dr Ria Vaportzis and Dr Alan Gow presented the outcomes at the School of Life Sciences Seminar series at Heriot-Watt, and also the University of Glasgow. Ria will also present the results at the British Council Researcher Links workshop ‘Ageing and Health – How to get there?’ in Sao Paulo, Brazil (14-16 March), and  at the Cognitive Aging Conference in Atlanta, USA (14-17 April).

February 2016


A Tablet for Healthy Ageing in the pub

Skeptics 2015A productive year came to a close as Dr Ria Vaportzis shared interim results from the study at the Skeptics in the Pub Christmas Stocking event, organised by the Edinburgh Skeptics Society.

Ria discussed the potential for tablet computers to be used as intervention tools to improve cognitive function of older adults beyond repetitive brain training. The outcomes of the study are expected to be finalised early next year.

If you are interested in participating in future studies, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email:e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

December 2015


Tablet training completed

Participants in the Tablet for Healthy Ageing tablet computer training group completed their 10-week course this month. The final week of classes involved participants’ presentations on their topics of interest. Some of the topics included planning imaginary trips, communicating with family overseas, gardening, losing weight, taking and presenting photos, and tracing family history. Participants in both the tablet training and control groups are now returning to Heriot-Watt University to complete the same cognitive assessments and wellbeing questionnaires that they completed earlier this year. These repeat assessments are expected to be completed in mid-December, and we hope to be report the results early next year.

If you are interested in participating in future studies, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

October 2015


Disseminating focus group findings

Tablet poster 2015The Tablet for Healthy Ageing team have been presenting the findings from the first stage of the study, detailing the focus groups completed earlier in the year that explored how older adults perceive new technology and tablet computers. In early September, Dr Alan Gow presented a poster summarising the findings at CCACE’s 8th Annual Research Day, and in October, Dr Ria Vaportzis and Alan also presented the findings at the Department of Psychology’s research seminar series at Heriot-Watt University.

A paper describing the focus group study is currently under review, and full details will be added to the Publications page as this progresses.

October 2015


Tablet training reaches halfway stage

By the end of September, participants in the Tablet for Healthy Ageing tablet computer training had completed six weeks of their classes. During the past few weeks, participants have learned to use various functions on their tablets. Some of these functions include connecting to WiFi, sending and replying to emails, taking photos, using social media such as Twitter, and downloading applications (apps). Participants have shown interest in a broad range of apps including adult ballet, astronomy, takeaways, YouTube, Spotify, history and cooking. They have also been enjoying the social aspect of the weekly classes during which they share their new learning experiences.

If you are interested in participating in future studies, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: 
e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

September 2015


The Great British Brain Off

In August, Project Director Dr Alan Gow returned to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a new show entitled “The Great British Brain Off”, as part oEdinburgh Beltane's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. The show examined various ingredients that might protect (or harm) the ageing brain. Lifestyle factors discussed included physical activity, diet and smoking, for example, with the audience determining what was explored in detail. The show was a collaboration between the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE).

You can get a taster of the show from the trailer below, which was viewed over 2000 times between the CCACE YouTube channel and Age Scotland's Facebook page. One reviewer noted the show was "fun and fascinating, not intimidating like old school science lessons where you were afraid of the teacher and tried not to fall asleep. It also feels like something that you can easily understand", and you can read their 4-star review in full here.

Earlier in the month, Alan also appeared in the first episode of Sian Williams's new BBC Radio 4 series, How to Have A Better Brain. You can catch up on the series here, with a short extra clip exploring "How walking can help ward off dementia".

August 2015


Tablet training started

Tablet computersThe tablet training classes for the Tablet for Healthy Ageing study started in August. Fifty participants were randomly allocated to either a tablet training or control group (i.e., no tablet training). Participants in the tablet training group will be attending a 2-hour class once a week for 10 consecutive weeks. Classes will cover a range of useful tablet skills and applications including social networking, managing finances, finding and accessing local resources, planning a holiday, taking photos and shopping. All participants completed cognitive assessments prior to the training period, and the same cognitive assessments will be completed following the training period.

If you are interested in participating in future studies, 
please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

August 2015


Next phase of Tablet for Healthy Ageing underway

The first cognitive assessments for the Tablet for Healthy Ageing started in July and the aim is to recruit 50 participants by early August. Participants visit Heriot-Watt University to complete a number of tasks that measure cognitive ability, such as memory and attention, as well as some basic questionnaires. Half of these participants will then attend tablet computer training classes for 10 weeks. Following the training period, all participants will be asked to complete a second cognitive assessment, and the performance of the two groups will then be compared.

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

July 2015


A Tablet for Healthy Ageing on the soapbox

Soapbox ScienceAt Soapbox Science in Glasgow, Dr Ria Vaportzis discussed how new technologies, like tablet computers, might be useful intervention tools to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults. She talked about how the Tablet for Healthy Ageing project is exploring using tablets to increase mental activity and engagement and how this might maintain cognitive abilities, such as memory, for longer.

Ria was one of 13 women scientists presenting at the event, which is a novel public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do.

People of all ages were very interested in the topic. “I had a wonderful and very engaging crowd. They asked interesting questions and got involved. We had a great time and laughed a lot”, says Ria.

If you weren't able to attend Soapbox Science, Ria describes her pre-event preparation here, and her highlights from the day here.

The next stage of the project is due to start soon. If you're interested in getting involved, or for further information, please contact Ria (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; telephone: 0131 451 8009).

June 2015


Participants needed for a tablet computer intervention study

Intervention posterThe Tablet for Healthy Ageing team is recruiting participants for a tablet computer intervention study. Participants must be between 65-75 years old, and have no tablet computer experience. Potential participants will be screened prior to their participation to ensure they are eligible.

The purpose of the study is to examine the effect of a tablet computer intervention on cognitive function. Eligible participants will initially complete a number of tasks that measure cognitive functioning (e.g., memory, attention) and will complete some basic questionnaires. Then, half of these participants will attend classes during which they will learn how to use a tablet computer and various applications (e.g., plan a trip, find local resources). Classes will run for 10 weeks in various locations around Edinburgh, and participants will have to attend a class per week. Tablet computers will be provided. The other half of the participants will not attend any classes. After 10 weeks of classes, all participants (both those who attended the classes and those who didn’t) will again complete the same cognitive tasks and questionnaires.

If you are interested in hearing more, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; tel: 0131 451 8009).

May 2015


Showcasing "A Tablet for Healthy Ageing"

Tablet For Healthy AgeingOur research team came closer to the public in April. The Tablet for Healthy Ageing project was showcased at the Eric Liddell Centre for the Spring Fling 2015 (organised by the South Edinburgh Arts Fair Association), and also at Broughton High School as part of the Live Well Later in Life event (organised by Edinburgh Council).

People were able to visit our stall to learn more about tablet computer technology, including getting to grips with a tablet, and to hear how new technology might be one way of delivering interventions for healthy ageing. A number of people took the opportunity to ask questions about the Tablet for Healthy Ageing project, or to sign up to take part.

If you’d like to participate in the study or would like further information, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; telephone: 0131 451 8009).

April 2015


Presentations at the Aging and Cognition Conference

EUCAS conferenceBoth Project Director, Dr Alan Gow, and study collaborator, Professor Mike Martin, presented at the Aging and Cognition Conference in Dortmund, Germany, in April. Professor Martin delivered a keynote address entitled “Promoting Cognitive Health in Real Life Across the Lifespan: A Case for Reverse Transfer”, while Dr Gow’s presentation was part of a symposium he convened entitled “Lifecourse exposers and the ageing brain”. The full abstract is below.

Examining neuroprotective lifestyles and white matter damage: the Glostrup 1914 Cohort
Alan J. Gow, Ellen Garde, Egill Rostrup and Erik L. Mortensen

The lifestyle factors proposed as neuroprotective are many and varied, including leisure-time engagement, physical activity, occupational exposures, and social networks and support, for example. While many longitudinal studies of these determinants of cognitive ageing exist, it is still relatively rare for follow-ups to extend over many decades that combine repeat assessments of both the putative exposures and the cognitive or brain imaging outcomes. The current study reports associations between these exposures assessed on repeated occasions across 30 years (from age 50 to 80) and subsequent brain white matter hyperintensities.

In the Glostrup 1914 Cohort, participants were initially recruited at age 50 (N = 802) when they completed a battery of cognitive tests; they were reassessed every 10 years up to age 70, and then every 5 years thereafter. Associations between occupational, social and activity factors with cognitive change have been previously reported from 50 to 80 years. These analyses will be extended to examine the associations between these cumulative lifestyle exposures and brain imaging parameters available for a subset of the cohort: 75 participants completed the MRI at age 80 from a potential 136, with a 2nd MRI at age 85 for 26 participants. The analyses will focus on identifying the occupational, social and activity factors from late midlife to old age that are associated with the presence and severity of white matter damage in the 80s.

April 2015


Focus groups completed

Focus groupEighteen participants between the ages of 65 and 76 took part in 3 focus groups at Heriot-Watt University. All participants had no previous tablet computer experience, and some were computer technology novices. Discussions centered around the perceived advantages and disadvantages of using tablets, how tablets could be helpful in addressing problems that older people might encounter, and reasons for not using tablets or computers to date. Participants also had the opportunity to have hands-on experience with several different tablets and use a number of applications.

The tablet experience was rated as positive by the majority of the participants. Two-thirds stated that it was likely or very likely they would use a tablet in the future, and almost all said they would like to learn to use a tablet.

If you’d also like to use a tablet and get involved in the next stage of the Tablet for Healthy Ageing project, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; 0131 451 8009).

March 2015


Volunteers needed for focus groups about ageing and technology

Focus groupThe Tablet for Healthy Ageing team is looking for people to participate in focus groups.

Participants may be eligible if they are between 65 and 75 years old, have either some or no computer experience, and do not have any tablet computer experience. If you are interested in hearing more, please contact Dr Ria Vaportzis (email: e.vaportzis@hw.ac.uk; telephone: 0131 451 8009).

The focus groups will involve asking participants about their perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards tablet computers. Participants will also interact with tablet computers. Questions will be asked in an interactive environment where participants will be free to talk with other group members.

Potential participants will be screened prior to their participation to ensure they are eligible.

The study will take approximately 2 hours, and refreshments will be provided. Participants will be reimbursed for their travel expenses.

If you'd like to share these details with your networks, a poster can be downloaded here.

February 2015


PhD Studentship available

A PhD opportunity allied to the Tablet for Healthy Ageing project is now available. The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) is currently inviting applications for their 2015 funded PhD Studentships. Dr Alan Gow, Project Director (Heriot-Watt University), and Dr Sarah MacPherson (University of Edinburgh) will co-supervise a PhD project, summarised below.

If you are interested in applying for this PhD project (or want to discuss other ideas within this remit), please contact Dr Gow in the first instance. Details of all the projects proposed for the CCACE PhD Studentships, the specific requirements for applicants and the process for applying can be found here: http://www.ccace.ed.ac.uk/node/279.

Title: Technologies to improve physical and social activity in cognitive ageing
Supervisors: Sarah MacPherson (CCACE member, Human Cognitive Neuropsychology group) & Alan Gow (CCACE member, Human Cognitive Ageing: Individual Differences group)

Older adults vary considerably in their age-related cognitive decline. Research has highlighted that being active and maintaining an engaged lifestyle are valuable for better cognition in old age. Encouraging physical and social engagement are important interventions thought to reduce age-related cognitive decline. With advances in technology, recent research has encouraged cognitive and physical training in older adults through tablet computers and related technologies. Technology also has the advantage of providing older adults with a window into the social world and better social networks. This PhD project will investigate the benefits of physical training and social media in older adults’ cognition.

December 2014


Team welcomes Dr Ria Vaportzis

Eleftheria VaportzisIn late November, the Tablet for Healthy Ageing team and the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University were delighted to welcome Dr Ria Vaportzis as Postdoctoral Research Associate. Dr Vaportzis joins the team from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. On starting with on the project, Ria said she was "thrilled to be part of this great team, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world (if not the most beautiful!)".

Ria will be developing the first phase of the Tablet for Healthy Ageing project, alongside Project Director Dr Alan Gow. The goal is to develop an intervention programme to investigate the feasibility of tablet computers to improve cognitive function, and general health and wellbeing in older adults. Research developing interventions 
with older adults utilising new technologies represents a steadily growing field, and the Tablet for Healthy Ageing team is looking forward to a busy year ahead.

November 2014


Brain Training on Trial: Summing-up and Passing Judgement

At this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Project Director Dr Alan Gow performed a show entitled “Brain Training on Trial”, as part oEdinburgh Beltane's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. The show attracted an audience of over 120 people, which made it the bestselling show in the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas programme. The show was a collaboration between the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE).

To hear about some of the things Alan and the audience explored in the show, you can watch the short video below. As a follow-up, Alan has also put together a blog which discusses things to look out for if you’re shopping for “brain training” games. The blog appears on Research the Headlines at: http://researchtheheadlines.org/2014/09/09/brain-training-on-trial/. There’s also a summary of the event at http://www.ccace.ed.ac.uk/news-events/latest/codi14.

October 2014


Postdoctoral Research Associate in Cognitive Intervention

Applications are invited for a PDRA position commencing from October 2014. The Dunhill Medical Trust funded “Tablet for Healthy Ageing” project seeks to design, develop and then test interventions to be used with older adults using tablet computers and related technology. The post will be for 18 months.

The successful applicant will be an enthusiastic and flexible postdoctoral researcher and will join the Project Director, Dr Alan Gow, in initiating this new research programme. Applicants are required to hold a PhD in psychology or a relevant field, and knowledge of cognitive ageing or interventions would be an advantage. Experience of managing research, developing test protocols, and recruiting and testing participants, is required.

Full details on the post, including how to apply, can be found at: http://www.hw.ac.uk/about/careers/job-opportunities/postdoctoral-research-associate-cognitive-18017.htm

September 2014


"Brain Training on Trial" at the Edinburgh Fringe

At this year's Fringe, Project Director Dr Alan Gow will be one of a number of academics from Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, Napier and Queen Margaret universities performing as part of Edinburgh Beltane's Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. His contribution is a show called "Brain Training on Trial" on August 18th at 3.40pm. You can watch a short trailer and read the full show description below. Follow updates on the show's development via Twitter, and buy your tickets here.

Brain Training on Trial: Spent your hard-earned cash on games that promise to protect your brain? Still forgetting why you went into that room? Then come and put brain training on trial. Be our prosecution, defence and jury as we examine the claims that brain training games protect your brain. Hear the evidence for and against their effectiveness and cross-examine our expert witness. As you question the evidence, what will your verdict be: brain training, guilty or not guilty? With Dr Alan Gow, Lecturer in Psychology at Heriot-Watt University.

August 2014


Presentation at the 17th European Conference on Personality

Conference presentationProject Director, Dr Alan Gow, presented at the 17th European Conference on Personality in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July. His presentation "Neuroprotective leisure activities and cognitive ageing" was part of the symposium "Openness to experience as a protective factor for cognitive aging" (Organisers – A. Cengia, M. Ziegler & P. Mussel). The full abstract is below.

Neuroprotective leisure activities and cognitive ageing
Alan J. Gow, Sophie von Stumm, and Ian J. Deary

Identifying factors that account for individual differences in cognitive ageing is a research priority. Much of this effort has concentrated on leisure activity participation, specifically the cognitively-protective effect of intellectually stimulating activities, and how personality traits determine the likelihood of seeking out such activities. The current study uses data from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, a longitudinal study of cognitive ageing. Participants were recruited at age 70 (N = 1091) and completed cognitive ability assessments (covering the domains of general cognitive ability, processing speed and memory) and self-report measures of lifestyle and personality. Previous analyses suggest that although leisure activity participation was associated with cognitive ability at age 70, these were completely attenuated after accounting for childhood cognitive ability (Gow et al., 2012). The current study extends these previously cross-sectional analyses to examine associations between leisure activity participation and cognitive ageing across 3 years, and the role of Intellect/Openness in determining activity participation.

July 2014


Funding secured from The Dunhill Medical Trust to initiate "Tablet for Healthy Ageing"

Dunhill Medical TrustIn June, The Dunhill Medical Trust awarded funding to initiate the "Tablet for Healthy Ageing", a supported intervention programme utilising tablet computers. It will explore the opportunities for new technology to deliver, monitor and personalise interventions with older adults and is the first phase of a long-term research programme.

Led by Dr Alan Gow from the Department of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, the research programme will commence in late-2014.

June 2014