News

Hub to help people stay sharp in older age

Keeping active, not smoking and learning a language are among the possible ways to stay sharp in later life, experts say.

Top tips on how people can protect their thinking skills as they grow older are being showcased in a new online resource.

The Staying Sharp hub – which highlights the latest world-leading research – aims to encourage lifestyle changes that might help people keep their brains healthy.

The resource has been launched by Age UK in partnership with the University’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE).

Leading research

It features findings from Disconnected Mind, an Edinburgh-based research project that seeks to discover how and why thinking skills change with age. The project, principally funded by Age UK, has been based at CCACE since 2004.

Age UK’s Chief Scientist Professor James Goodwin said some lifestyle factors that affect brain health and thinking skills are the same as those that affect physical health.

These include smoking, drinking, being overweight, eating the wrong things and not exercising. However, some factors – such as not getting enough sleep – were less obvious, he said.

For many older people, losing their mental sharpness is one of their biggest fears which is why it’s important that people are aware of the lifestyle factors that can influence this process and that they have the power to change

Professor James GoodwinAge UK

Professor Ian Deary, who leads The Disconnected Mind (Lothian Birth Cohort 1936) project, said his team’s research focus has been on normal cognitive ageing.

The team has studied the ways in which people’s brains and thinking skills change as they age and how that varies from one individual to another.

For most of us, said Professor Deary, the language and number skills and knowledge we have learned over many years hold quite steady - or even improve a little – as we get older.

Other skills – including some aspects of memory, speed of processing, spatial ability and reasoning – on average decline with age.

Some people, however, experience more serious decline, including dementia.

“Understanding why some people’s thinking skills age better than others is our aim. It appears from our results so far that some risk factors for cognitive decline are environmental factors, relating to our lifestyles. It gives you hope that these things can be remedied with some alleviation of cognitive ageing.”

Professor Ian DearyThe Disconnected Mind Project

Age UK Staying Sharp - www.ageuk.org.uk/stayingsharp