The Art of Intelligent Ageing: Portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohort

In June 1932 and 1947, almost all 11-year-olds across Scotland undertook a test of their thinking skills, giving us a comprehensive account of the intelligence of Scotland’s children born in 1921 and 1936. Decades later, researchers at the University of Aberdeen and Edinburgh rediscovered these tests and spotted a rare chance to study the factors that influence lifetime cognitive ageing. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, led by Professor Ian Deary, contacted those who had sat the tests and still lived in Edinburgh and the Lothians, and in doing so formed the Lothian Birth Cohorts (LBCs), which are now among the most important studies of ageing anywhere in the world. Members of the LBCs have been followed up since 1999; they have been assessed on many cognitive tests, they have taken part in brain scans, they have undergone many blood-based tests including genetic tests, and have carried out questionnaires on their social and family lives.

A Lothian Birth Cohort reunion in 2017

A Lothian Birth Cohort reunion in 2017

The Art of Intelligent Ageing: Portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohorts by Fionna Carlisle is a unique art exhibition set to honour this remarkable group of people who have contributed so much to health research.JohnScott Exhibit logo

Fionna Carlisle is a renowned portrait artist and a former student of the Edinburgh College of Art. She has painted many of Scotland’s famous faces, including Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party and the late MP Robin Cook. Fionna, who hails from Caithness, is an internationally recognised artist and splits her time between Crete and Edinburgh. She spent over four years painstakingly detailing some of the LBCs’ participants and researchers using her signature style of colourful, bold brushstrokes.

Alongside the paintings are scientific treasures from the LBCs, including a 3D-printed brain and laser-etched crystal block of the brain of one LBC member, John Scott. A special portrait of Nobel-prize winning physicist Peter Higgs – who also took part in an Edinburgh study of ageing – will also be on display. He took part in a cognitive ageing study that was a forerunner of the LBCs.

Fionna Carlisle said, “The camera is instant whereas the artist listens and studies the sitters to gradually build a human picture. With these paintings I wanted to filter age and show the youth and spirit of the older sitters as people who have real bodies and limbs, spirit and life.”

Professor Ian Deary said, “The Lothian Birth Cohorts have encouraged my scientific team to scour their minds, bodies, and histories to build rich and valuable accounts of their negotiating the whips and scorns of time.”

The exhibition is curated by Duncan Thomson, former Director at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and is free to visit. It will run on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 27 October to 24 November at the Fire Station, Edinburgh College of Art.

Let’s celebrate those making a difference in your community

Every day in communities across Scotland there are individuals making a positive difference to the lives of older people. Whether it be through volunteering, running local groups and services or campaigning for change, these dedicated individuals put their time and effort into making sure the older people in their local communities and beyond can love later life.

We believe the dedication of these inspiring individuals deserves to be recognised. Cue the Age Scotland Awards!

Celebrating those making a difference

Each of our award winners has a short film produced about them and is invited to our National Conference to receive their award after a showing of the film. Previous guest awards presenters have included BBC Broadcaster and Journalist Jackie Bird and Singer-Songwriter Eddi Reader.

The 2019 awards will be presented at the Age Scotland National Conference, held in March at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow.

The 2019 award categories

Our Jess Barrow Award for Campaigning and Influencing recognises political or awareness-raising campaigns that have made an impact on the lives of older people. Our 2018 winner was Walking Football Scotland in recognition of their nationwide campaigning to get more people moving by playing a walking version of the beautiful game.

 

The Patrick Brooks Award for Best Working Partnership is for partnership working between two or more organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to addressing the needs of older people. The 2018 award recognised the fantastic work between the Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Podiatry Service in the running of Toe to toe footcare. The service is helping older people access foot care services that would not otherwise be available and the chance to have a chat with the practitioner means service users can be referred to other services quickly and efficiently.

 

Our Services for Older People Award recognises an individual or group who have provided an innovative service run by, or on behalf of, older people which has addressed the issue of loneliness and isolation and/or improved health and wellbeing in later life. For the 2018 award, Roar – Connections for Life impressed the judges with their huge range of services from keep fit classes to fall prevention efforts to dancing and lunch.

 

The Age Scotland Member Group of the Year Award recognises a member group whose activities have championed the needs of older people and had a profound impact on their members. Dalbeattie Men’s Shed won the award for 2018. The Shed provides a comfortable space for men to congregate, enjoy some banter and put their skills to good use (or learn new ones!).

 

Our Volunteer of the Year Award celebrates a volunteer who has championed a group or organisation to benefit the lives of other older people or on behalf of older people. In 2018 we congratulated Gladys Cruickshank who runs the Alford Car Transport Service. Coordinating 30 volunteers, the service Gladys runs has helped thousands of people get to medical appointments and other commitments since 1999.

 

Lastly, we have the Age Scotland Inspiration Award. Our inspiration award is open to both individuals and groups – celebrating either an inspiring older person or a group who has supported or enabled older people to love later life. In 2018 we celebrated Mary Walls of Kirkcaldy. She inspires so many people with her warmth, her kindness, her caring attitude and her determination to see older people in Kirkcaldy lead an enjoyable later life.

 

We also had a group winner in 2018 – the Scone and District 50 Plus group. The group offers a huge number of activities, tackling loneliness and isolation and letting people learn new skills and meet new friends.

 

Feeling Inspired?

Do you know a local champion, group, or service doing amazing things? Nominate them today!

The deadline for nominations is Friday 30th November. Find out more about how to nominate at www.agescotland.org.uk/awards

Autumn Voices: exploring creativity in later life

Age Scotland are grateful to be receiving proceeds from the sales of a new book, Autumn Voices. The book has been published as part of a project exploring how ageing relates to writing and other forms of creativity. We hear from the book’s editor; author, dramatist and lecturer Robin Lloyd-Jones.


Three years ago, for the first time in our history, there were more people over the age of 60 in Scotland than under 18. This trend is increasing. The percentage of elderly people in the population of Scotland becomes greater each year. robinOur economy will not survive unless we stop regarding our elderly citizens as a burden and start seeing them as potentially productive and useful people whose maturity, greater life experience and insights are valuable assets. A society that is better for older people is better for people of all ages. To address the problems and the opportunities of the elderly is to benefit the welfare of our society as a whole.

This was my motivation for undertaking the Autumn Voices Project (funded by Creative Scotland). When I began the project, in 2015, I was 80, and 83 when it ended.  During this time I interviewed twenty Scottish writers ranging in age from 70 to 92 about their later lives and their continuing creativity. The majority of these men and women had made for themselves a benign circle. That is to say their creativity contributed to their health and wellbeing, and their health and wellbeing, particularly their mental health, was an important factor in maintaining their creativity.

It has certainly been my own experience that to forget self in a worthwhile project is like a tonic. Being completely immersed in what you are doing, having the mind fully engaged, having a purpose in life, waking up with something to look forward to, and knowing that you are still doing something useful to, and valued by, society – these things contribute massively to a happy, healthy and fulfilled old age.

These twenty autumn voices represent a total of over 150 years of varied, fascinating and colourful life experience since passing the age of 70. They are certainly proof of the saying: ‘You don’t grow old, you become old when you stop growing.’ I learned a great deal from them – not only about creativity in later life, but also about successful ageing.

Many of those to whom I spoke thought they had become more accepting and more tolerant not only of self, but of others. This, they reported, had opened the way to being able to forgive. Instead of huge amounts of mental energy being tied up in feelings of hatred, annoyance, suspicion and other negative feelings, it became available to channel in creative directions.  They spoke, too, about having a new relationship with time and about a heightened appreciation of everything around them. As hunger sharpens the appetite, so age had intensified their awareness of the beauty and wonder of the world, of love and of blessings.

One thing they definitely did not accept was the negative stereotype of the elderly – the self-fulfilling prophecy of old folk as people whose useful life is over and who no longer have the physical or mental capacity to be productive or creative. We live in a culture that is still learning how to age. Through their writing and their example, the remarkable men and women I was privileged to meet are at the frontier of this learning process.

Autumn Voices (Edited by Robin Lloyd-Jones, PlaySpace Publications, June 2018) can be ordered through the project website: www.autumnvoices.co.uk

Squaddie banter and a cuppa – support for Veterans in Falkirk

Just turned two, Falkirk Veterans is already making a big difference for veterans in Forth Valley, many of them older. In her guest blog Falkirk Veterans Chair Maggie Brown tells us more about this important service.


Falkirk Veterans aims to enable veterans, and often also currently service personnel, in getting together to ‘return to the tribe’ and become stronger, together. We have a Drop-In (the only one in Forth Valley) for anyone who feels isolated, needs some confidential help or just some squaddie banter and giggles with a cuppa and light bites. We now regularly FalkirkVetslogohave around 25 to 30 veterans, and a few family members, who attend every week. We also have a Breakfast Club, where former and serving military can enjoy an amazing breakfast and share memories and laughs. Businesses locally pitch in, with generously weekly donations from Asda, Greggs, Malcolm Allan, Thomas Johnson, Marshalls Bakers and Patricks of Camelon. We are also registered as referees for our local food bank and often make up food parcels for our more vulnerable veterans.

We are developing a Garden Club in the walled garden in Callander Park, which very soon will provide a safe, quiet space for relaxation and pottering around planting flowers or vegetables. This is particularly relevant for veterans who have suffered trauma related injuries. We grow and pick vegetables and give out food bags to our more vulnerable veterans.

There’s a social club with occasional free days out for families and a few other events during the year. In August, 19 veterans and their carers went to the Edinburgh Tattoo, thanks to a grant from the Not Forgotten Association. One said it was “the first time he had been out of his house and had gone to an event in 15 years.” A recent Hawaiian night was a great success with more bonding, fun and a break away from their normal lives.

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Welfare and signposting is the more serious part. Setting up support agencies and services, and expecting veterans to go to them, has long been the normal practice. But when individuals have been trained and conditioned to persevere and succeed under all circumstances and despite all adversities, as they are in the Armed Forces, it makes it very difficult for many veterans to accept, or even admit that they need help in the first place! This is why drop-ins like ours are so important. We build up the confidence and self-esteem of the individual to accept the help that is on offer to them. We have helped several veterans with welfare advice, counselling, housing and furniture: we have part of a storage container held at the Royal British Legion Grangemouth where we store furniture and furnishings donated from the public

Want to know more about what we do, or think you could support us? Pop over to our Drop-In, sample a cuppa and a hot filled roll and see for yourself what we do and what we offer.

  • The Drop-In is on Thursdays 11am-2pm at Royal British Legion, Grangemouth.
  • The Breakfast Club is second Sunday and last Saturday of every month, 10am in the Graeme Hotel, Falkirk

Falkirk Veterans is one of a growing number of organisations offering a ‘veterans’ warm welcome’ listed by Age Scotland’s Community Connecting service. To find out what is available in your area, call the Age Scotland Helpline for free on 0800 12 44 222 (Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm).

 

 

What keeps you sharp?

Isn’t the expression ‘having a senior moment’ awful? Yet people often think of changes in their mental skills with age in terms of decline. While some people do experience these changes, others do not. So how do our thinking skills change as we age? And do our lifestyles affect those changes?

Those are just two of the questions that will be tackled in “What Keeps You Sharp?” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August. The show, led by Dr Alan Gow from Heriot-Watt University, returns as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. It will be a chance to explore a range of issues around changes in thinking skills, from when those changes might be expected (if at all), how those changes might be influenced by genes or lifestyles, and what lifestyle factors might be good or bad for brain health.

As we grow older, we are more likely to experience general declines in our thinking and memory skills (these are referred to as our mental or cognitive abilities). Some individuals experience noticeable changes in their thinking and memory skills across their 60s and beyond, while others maintain these abilities into old age. This variation suggests that a number of factors influence the likelihood of mental decline.

Alan and his team in The Ageing Lab at Heriot-Watt are exploring some of those factors, and in the show you’ll hear about some of their own and others works focussing on the kinds of things we might do more of, or less of, to protect our brains as we age.

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The big questions being explored in the “What Keeps You Sharp?” show were part of a UK-wide survey that was completed earlier last year. The audience will therefore have a chance to share their own thoughts about thinking skills, compare those to the 3000+ people across the UK who took part in the survey, and hear how that all links back to what the most recent research suggests. But don’t worry, it’s not a traditional lecture – one of the rules within the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas programme is that you can’t use slides, and the shows are also compered by comedian Susan Morrison to keep everything on track.

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“What Keeps You Sharp?” is on twice during the Fringe, at the New Town Theatre on George Street on 7 August (8.10pm) and 16 August (1.30pm). You can watch a short trailer here, or read more about the show and buy tickets here.

And if you can’t make it along, you can still find out more. Last year’s show was recorded for part of BBC Radio Scotland’s Brainwaves series. You can listen to that programme here…though best not to listen if you’re coming along as it might spoil some of the questions you’ll be thinking about!


Book your tickets today!

“What Keeps You Sharp?” is part of Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas 2018: 
Debate, discussion and discourse at the Edinburgh Fringe

Catch the show at the New Town Theatre on George Street, Edinburgh on 7 August (8.10pm) and 16 August (1.30pm).

 

The Veterans’ Guide to Later Life in Scotland – out now

As we near UK Armed Forces Day (30 June) Age Scotland has launched a free advice guide for older veterans.

The Veterans’ Guide to Later Life in Scotland offers veterans a route map to embracing opportunities and overcoming challenges that later life can bring.  It’s available to download, and postal copies can be requested from the Age Scotland Helpline 0800 12 44 222 or by emailing publications@agescotland.org.uk.  Here’s a flavour of what it offers older veterans, their families and professionals working with and for them.

Being treated fairly

Did you know that each council and health board in Scotland has signed a promise to every veteran?  Known as the Armed Forces Covenant this says you “should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens” and that “special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and bereaved.”

Keeping well

Did you know that veterans are entitled to priority NHS treatment for health problems caused or made worse by military service? That means they should be seen more quickly than someone on the same waiting list who has the same level of clinical need.  There are NHS Veterans Champions you can speak to if you feel this hasn’t happened.

Care

When someone needs to move to a care home their social work department can carry out a financial assessment to see how much financial help they qualify for.  Did you know that if they are a veteran receiving War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Scheme payments, these payments won’t be counted as income in the financial assessment?  This means they may be eligible for more funding.

Housing

Did you know that specialist housing for veterans is provided by a number of charitable organisations in Scotland – from single rooms to adapted family homes?  The guide includes a list of providers you can apply for housing with.

Money matters

The guide introduces the main benefits relevant to older veterans.  Benefits rules are complex and the guide will not give you all the answers.  It will however help you to ask the right questions, which you can then put to the Age Scotland Helpline 0800 12 44 222.  In the first half of 2018, the helpline identified around £25,000 of unclaimed benefits for our veteran callers and their dependents.

Out and about

Did you know that veterans and their families can get discounts for many goods and services through the Defence Discount Service, the official MOD discount service for the UK’s armed forces and veterans?

Download the guide here or get a copy posted out for free by calling the Age Scotland Helpline 0800 12 44 222 or by emailing publications@agescotland.org.uk.

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Top tips for enjoying a heatwave safely

Scotland isn’t known for its hot summer months so when we do get some sunshine, we all want to make the most of it. It’s important to remember though that when the temperature goes up it can present health risks – especially for older people.


As we age, our body becomes less efficient at regulating our temperature, and this can be exacerbated by some types of medication. Some individuals are at greater risk, for example people living with dementia, heart problems (because the heart must work harder to pump extra blood to help cool your body down) or reduced mobility (which could make some tasks such as opening and closing windows or getting a drink of water more difficult).

By taking a few sensible precautions ourselves, and checking in with the older people you know, we can make sure everyone is able to make the best of the warmer weather.

Top tips for staying cool in a heatwave

  1. Stay cool inside during the hottest time of the day from late morning to mid-afternoon. If you do go out use sunscreen of factor 15 or above, wear a hat and stay in the shade if you can. Keep your house cool by keeping curtains and blinds closed in rooms that catch the sun.
  2. Limit strenuous activities like housework and gardening – most chores will keep until its cooler.
  3. Drink lots of fluid, whether you are at home or out and about. Limit caffeine and avoid alcohol as they increase the risk of dehydration.
  4. Watch what you eat:
  • Try to have more cold foods such as salads and fruits as they contain a lot of water
  • Keep chilled food cold, bacteria grow quickly in warm weather
  • Keep hot food hot, particularly make sure barbequed food is cooked right through
  1. Dress for the sun, light-coloured, loose cotton clothing can help you stay cool in the heat. Let your feet breathe too, wear comfortable sandals which support your feet
  2. Cool off with cold water, a cool bath, shower or splash of water on your face can help you cool down. .
  3. Check for weather forecasts and temperature warnings on TV, radio and online at www.metoffice.gov.uk  

Helping each other in the heat

We would also encourage everyone to check in on older neighbours, friends and family to check that they are doing ok and ask if they need anything. Doing a quick run to the shops to pick up some sunscreen or helping to open/close a window to let some fresh air in can make the world of difference to someone’s comfort and wellbeing.


For more tips download our sisters charity Age UK’s publication on ‘Keeping Cool in a heatwave‘ or call the Age Scotland helpling for free on 0800 12 44 222.