How do our thinking skills change as we age? Do our lifestyles affect those changes?
Cognitive decline (changes in our thinking, reasoning and memory skills) is one of the most feared aspects of ageing, and is a major determinant of health, independence and quality of life. While cognitive abilities show characteristic changes with age, there is considerable interindividual variation. Modifiable determinants of cognitive ageing are therefore being sought to inform the development of interventions to reduce, delay, halt or even reverse these changes.
Remaining cognitively, socially and physically active is recommended for the maintenance of cognitive abilities. Intervention studies based on cognitive training, however, have generally failed to show broad, transferrable benefits, albeit individuals show improvement on the specific task trained. More complex interventions have begun to produce promising results. The focus of The Ageing Lab is therefore to develop and test broad, lifestyle-based interventions. Developing lifestyle interventions for healthy ageing is an important area of research and has applied value in an increasingly aged society.
Our main research studies are described below, and you can download a brief summary flyer here.
The Intervention Factory
Our principal research programme is The Intervention Factory, which commenced in July 2016 supported by Velux Stiftung. [The study is recorded in the ISRCTN registry: ISRCTN96478815.]
The project is considering community-based activities as potential interventions for cognitive ageing, to explore whether taking up a new activity might help maintain or improve our thinking skills as we age.
The first phase of the project was What Keeps You Sharp?, a national survey of people's beliefs about how thinking skills change with age and the factors that might affect those changes. The survey is now closed, but you can read the survey details . Over 3,000 people from across the UK took part and the results were first summarised in a report released in April 2018, available here. Additional outputs from the survey are listed on our Publications page.
A Tablet for Healthy Ageing
A Tablet for Healthy Ageing was a supported intervention programme utilising tablet computers, funded by The Dunhill Medical Trust. It represented our first project exploring the opportunities for new technology to deliver, monitor and personalise interventions with older people.
Tablet computers (often simply referred to as tablets) offer a method of delivering varied, multimodal interventions to older people beyond repetitive cognitive training regimes. As technologies present inherent challenges, any intervention needs to be appropriately designed and supported. Our initial research goals focussed on testing the acceptability and usability of tablets as tools to improve the health and wellbeing of older people.
The first phase of the project developed and refined intervention protocols via user and expert-engagement. This established older adults' familiarity with tablets and similar devices, their exposure to them, and perceived and actual barriers to participation.
The finalised intervention protocol was then tested with older people. The research questions focussed on how the tablet training intervention affected the health and wellbeing of those completing the intervention programme versus those not.
The Tablet for Healthy Ageing project has been completed and you can see the outputs on our Publications page. Further developments are planned within the Tablet for Healthy Ageing research programme.
Senior visitors to tourist attractions
The Senior Visitors project was a collaboration with Professor Anna Leask and Professor Paul Barron at Edinburgh Napier University, funded by Interface. It represents a partnership with the Camera Obscura, National Museums Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, and Rosslyn Chapel to develop a programme to attract and engage older people at visitor attractions.
The project began in November 2017; details of the initial findings will follow.
Cycling Without Age Scotland
Founded in Copenhagen in 2012, Cycling Without Age brings generations closer together by sharing experiences by bike. The specially designed Trishaws allow volunteers to visit local facilities for older people around the community and offer residents an opportunity to be a passenger on the Trishaw.
Cycling Without Age Falkirk was the first chapter in Scotland, launched in March 2017 with funding from the Scottish Innovation Fund to the Communities Along the Carron Association (CATCA). The Ageing Lab worked with CATCA to evaluate the Cycling Without Age Falkirk trial, supported by the School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University.
The evaluation will be reported in 2019.
A year after the first chapter was formed in Falkirk, Cycling Without Age Scotland was officially launched in 2018 with funding from the Scottish Government (read more), to take the initiative across the country. The Ageing Lab continue to work with Cycling Without Age Scotland to explore how the activity benefits those taking part, looking at the effects on mental and physical health and wellbeing, social engagement, loneliness and isolation.
The Ageing Lab collaborates with longitudinal studies of ageing based at the Universities of Edinburgh and Copenhagen.
Dr Alan Gow is an Associate Member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, where he works with the Lothian Birth Cohort studies led by Professor Ian Deary. The participants in these studies completed a mental ability test when they were aged 11, and decades later were recruited into follow-ups to examine the ageing process across their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Alan also conducts research with colleagues at the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen, on the Glostrup 1914 Cohort led by Professor Erik Lykke Mortensen, a sample recruited at age 50 and followed for up to 40 years.
To view outputs from these collaborations, you can access Dr Alan Gow's publications here.
You can download a brief summary flyer describing our main research studies.