Can taking up a new activity help our thinking skills as we age?
That’s a key question for researchers interested in cognitive ageing, the field that explores how thinking skills change over the life course, and what factors might be associated with those changes.
The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University’s Department of Psychology have made it their mission to find out how new activities could affect our thinking skills as we age.
As we age, we are more likely to experience changes in our thinking and memory skills (these are referred to as our mental or cognitive abilities). Some people experience declines in their thinking and memory skills across their 60s and beyond, while others maintain their abilities into old age. This variation suggests that a number of factors influence the likelihood of mental decline. Keeping engaged in intellectual, social or physical activities have all been proposed as potentially beneficial.
In our major study in The Ageing Lab, we are asking people take up new and challenging activities to see how those might have benefits for their thinking skills, as well as their health and wellbeing more broadly. We’re on target to have over 300 people in that study, and the results will be reported later this year. But there’s still time for people to take part. To find out what that might involve, here are what some of our current participants think about their experiences.
Professor Paul Hare from our Accountancy, Economics & Finance Department spent two weeks in July in the Falkland Islands, working on a project for the EU concerned with evaluating the last two aid programmes in the Falklands funded by the EU. He writes for us below about his time there.
Alan Gow from our Psychology department, has written for us on “Research the Headlines”, a fascinating blog project enabling students to develop their critical thinking skills and ability to disseminate their growing knowledge. Well done to the students involved in showcasing their work!
In our teaching, we want to ensure that our students not only get a firm grasp of their topic, but that they develop a range of skills that might be relevant after they graduate. For students in the 4th Year course Psychology of Ageing, one of the pieces of coursework helped them to develop their abilities in communicating their specialised knowledge. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. At the end of June, Research the Headlines showcased some of that work.
Neil Gibson, Director of Sport, Performance and Health at Oriam: Scotland’s sports performance centre, and Programme Director within the School of Social Sciences recently published a paper looking at optimising recovery between intense periods of work. Here he explains how exercise and interdisciplinary research might help us organise and optimise how allowing people to choose their own recovery lengths might be something worth considering.
High intensity training is in vogue. It’s being prescribed in CrossFit gyms to exercise classes and interventions designed to help people battle diabetes and manage their weight. But what exactly is it? Generally speaking, the ‘exercise’ part is prescribed using resistance training (lifting weights or moving your body in space), cycling, running or rowing either outside or on specially designed ergometers. The intensity, which is how hard the exercise is or is perceived to be, is often individualised in an attempt to make the stimulus more effective, as is the length of each repetition, from 30 seconds to four minutes. It is fair to say that there has been a reasonable amount of research done around how best to prescribe these bouts of exercise, however, in contrast, relatively little regarding how best to schedule recovery periods. Whether we are involved in periods of intense work in our jobs or during exercise, how we recover is paramount to how effective we are likely to be. Continue reading What can Blackpool donkeys teach us about exercise
Dr Anna Sedda, Assistant Professor in our Psychology Department, recently published a paper on the importance of working with the mind as well as the body when managing recovery from spinal cord injury. Here she talks through the role of the brain in our perceptions of the body and its abilities.
You are your body. What a silly sentence, right? Of course we have a physical body that belongs to us and we use to drink coffee or, if you are not as lazy as myself, to go for a walk. The interesting thing is that our body is not only “physical”: we do also have a mental representation of it. This cognitive function is called body representation, and is ruled by our brain activity. Even more importantly, this body representation contributes to a great deal to our self-identity. Continue reading The brain before the body
An exciting new application has been launched by our Languages and Intercultural Studies department, enabling new migrants to learn the language of their host country and familiarise themselves with culture-specific vocabulary and concepts; thereby potentially removing some barriers to integration. The Moving Languages app is the result of an EU-funded project led by Finnish organisation Learnmera Oy, with LINCS at Heriot-Watt as one of the partners.
Free to download on iOS and Android, the app is user-friendly, versatile and comprehensive, providing a gamified language- and culture-learning tool. It contains 4000+ illustrated vocabulary items for easy concept recognition, grammar exercises, flashcards, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, culture, administration, health and immigration tabs, dialogues with audio, audio spelling and comprehension tests and many other features. The app covers topics that are essential during the first steps of living in the host country.
Following the broadcast of Blue Planet 2, there has been an increasing interest amongst the general public on how to reduce ocean plastics. Images of a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in his or her nostril, a seahorse carrying a cotton bud and marine mammals caught in fishing nets have understandably upset viewers. We can see increased efforts on behalf of communities to clear up their beaches, and charities such as Surfers against Sewage have seen increased interest in their work. Emma Shepherd reported in The Guardian that school children have been so moved by images of marine life in distress that they are putting pressure on their parents to change their use single use plastics.
Our research academics do important work that is genuinely changing lives and policy in a whole host of areas. Pulling them out of their comfort zone and in front of a non-academic audience isn’t always the easiest of tasks, but Alan Gow from our Psychology Department is no stranger to the stage. Alan is leading research on the effects of ageing on the brain and thinking skills and will be making his second Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas outing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, along with Anna Sedda, who is presenting on her work on disgust. Alan told us a bit more about CODI.
An academic, a comedian and the public walk into a Fringe venue…
No, it’s not the setup to a joke, it’s the basis for the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. CODI, as it’s known, puts researchers at the heart of the world’s largest arts festival. The 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe marks CODI’s sixth year and the programme has just been released.
Here at SoSS, our research academics work hard to ensure their work genuinely impacts on the world around us. Current research around disability, ageing, learning, energy economics, green logistics and much, much more all has enormous implications for how we live, work and think about many issues.
Our BSL-team, whose work has already had a huge impact on justice, education and employment within the Deaf community, have now achieved a first for any UK university – signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the British Deaf Association.
If you think that doing a PhD is all about being surround by endless piles of books and journals – one long deskbound literature review, this might make you think again! The School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt offers a world of opportunities, and some of our current PhD researchers are a great example.
Cait McCullagh, a PhD researcher with our Intercultural Research Centre, is undertaking research under a SGSAH Applied Research Collaborative Studentship in Shetland, looking at how people in vulnerable and remote environments connect around their maritime heritage. Her work, Curating Heritage for Sustainable Communities in Highly Vulnerable Environments: The case of Scotland’s Northern Isles, is a practice-based PhD, with hands-on work at Shetland Museum and Archives. Cait finds this approach beneficial, describing it as “ensuring that my praxis is grounded in the experience and learning opportunities that working behind the scenes with colleagues there affords.”