I joined Heriot-Watt in 2013 as a Lecturer/Assistant Professor and Research Leader. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2015, and am now a Professor in Psychology (School of Social Sciences).
With a background in Psychology, my research focuses on the identification of lifestyle and behavioural factors that predict healthy ageing, primarily cognitive ageing. That is, the factors that might protect or harm the ageing brain. I am mainly interested in factors which are modifiable, such as activity participation and exercise, social networks and support, and occupational characteristics and exposures. By being amenable to change, such factors are potential targets for interventions designed to reduce or delay the deleterious effect of ageing on cognitive abilities.
Much of my research has been conducted within the Lothian Birth Cohort studies, based at the University of Edinburgh. The participants in these studies had 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. I have also worked with colleagues at the University of Copenhagen on the Glostrup 1914 Cohort, a sample recruited at age 50 and followed for up to 40 years.
While continuing to work on large, longitudinal studies of ageing, I am developing a translational strand to my research at Heriot-Watt within The Ageing Lab. Based on my work identifying lifestyle factors that appear to protect cognitive abilities, I initiated my first intervention project, A Tablet for Healthy Ageing. The effect on cognitive abilities and mental wellbeing of engaging in a 10-week tablet computer training programme, which represented an entirely new and relatively demanding activity for participants, was assessed.
Our latest research project was initiated in 2016. The Intervention Factory is a three-year study assessing a range of activities within existing community-based programmes as potential interventions to reduce cognitive ageing. The activities vary in their mental, social and physical demands; the research will assess which type(s) of engagement provides the greatest cognitive benefits.
The focus of The Ageing Lab is therefore to develop and test broad, lifestyle-based interventions where older people are provided with opportunities to engage in novel activities. Developing lifestyle interventions for healthy ageing is an important area of research, with applied value in an increasingly aged society.