Guest blog: What Keeps You Sharp?

This guest post was contributed by Dr Alan J. Gow, Associate Professor in Psychology,  School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University.

As we age, some of us will experience changes in our thinking skills. People often think of these changes in terms of decline, maybe noticing their memory getting a bit poorer or not being able to solve problems as quickly as when they were younger. While some people do experience these changes, others do not. In fact, some people retain their thinking skills well.

Researchers are therefore trying to better understand how our thinking skills change (or stay stable) as we age. In exploring the variation that exists from person to person, a really important question then arises: What factors affect the changes we might experience?

I’ve been asking that question in my own research and at Age UK’s For Later Life Conference next February, I’ll be talking about some of the factors that we think might protect or harm our thinking skills as we age. I’ll be sharing examples from the studies I’ve been fortunate to work on in Edinburgh, and also the current opinion when we collate information across many different studies.

I’m not going to tell you more about all those things just now though, but I have a good reason for that.

As well as a better understanding of the changes that might occur, another thing that we need more information about is how people themselves view those changes. For example, are you aware of how and when thinking skills might change? Is it something you’re concerned about? What factors, if any, do you think affect those changes?

To get that information, my research team have launched a nationwide survey, What Keeps You Sharp? If you’re aged 40 or over and living in the UK you can take part now ( or find out more about the survey here (

If we get a clearer picture of what people know about how thinking skills might change as well as the things they’re less sure about, then it should help us better communicate what the best advice for brain health currently is. The answers might also give us new things to study that people tell us are important for maintaining their own thinking skills.

At Age UK’s conference, I’ll be able to share some of the very earliest results from the What Keeps You Sharp? survey, so if you can, please do take part and share it among your own networks.

And don’t worry if you can’t make the meeting in February, once the main results are available I’ll be able to share those in another blog. Thank you for helping us explore “What Keeps You Sharp?”


If you’re aged 40 or over and living in the UK you can complete the survey online: You can contact the research team with any questions (email or call 0131 451 8009), or to request the survey in a printed format.

The survey is being conducted by researchers in The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (

Age UK’s For Later Life 2017 is a must attend conference for anyone with an interest in age-related business, research, policy or service delivery. You can find out more on the Age UK website


Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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