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).

 

‘TeaSet’ – highlighting loneliness at the Edinburgh Festival

There are many ways to raise awareness on the effects of loneliness and isolation. Will Searle from Age Scotland’s Communications Team recently attended a play called ‘TeaSet’ in the Edinburgh Festival that aims to highlight social isolation among older people.


One of my favourite things about the Fringe is finding wee shows that have managed to cut past the hype of the huge behemoths everyone’s heard of and grabbed your attention. The team from Teaset did so by getting in touch with us at Age Scotland to see if we were interested in coming along to see their play. Simple and very effective!teaset

The play is a one-woman show performed superbly by Amy Malloy.  It tackles the incredibly difficult issues of loss, violence against older people and the heated debate of dying with dignity.  Using the medium of intergenerational interaction, Amy tells us how she came to meet Mrs A, an older lady, who is living in her daughter’s house.  Amy’s character, we never learn her name, is charged by Mrs A’s daughter to look after her whilst they go on holiday to the Carribean.

The story beautifully intersperses humour with the raw grief of loss that Amy and Mrs A have both experienced.  With the intimate setting of the venue, Pleasance That, you experience the emotion that Amy expresses so viscerally, whether as her own character or when she is voicing Mrs A.  You can feel the pressure as her eyes begin to well up and you really do forget that you’re in a show and not sitting opposite someone who is reliving a harrowing moment.

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As a member of the Age Scotland Communications Team, I’m regularly faced with the job of being one of charity’s press team and answering the press phone.  Journalists will call us for comment on the latest court case or issue that affects older people.  I’m reminded on a far too regular basis of the violence that is unfortunately targeted at older people.  This play tackles the difficult aftermath of how that can affect an older person but also someone of Amy’s age.  It highlights the importance of building safe communities for everyone but also how we deal with the effects.  Violence, when it happens to anyone, is something that needs to be managed in a sympathetic and supportive way to ensure that you can move on from that point and stop it from consuming your whole person.teaset2

I had a coffee with Amy along with the director and producer after the show and chatted to them about their experience of the show.  The show had a very personal element to Amy as her own Grandmother passed away last year.  It was heart-warming that the Teaset team were really concerned about the isolation facing older people and how they could use the show as a catalyst to spur people into action to make a difference.  As such, they will be promoting Silver Line Friends in their programme, a volunteer opportunity with Silver Line Scotland.  By donating just an hour a week you can transform the life of someone who feels they have no one to speak to.  It seems such a simple concept but it really does make a life-changing difference.

I would very much urge you to go and see Teaset, it’s on at 2pm, Pleasance That, 6-23 and 29-31 August.  And once you’ve done that, take the time to contact an older relative or friend.  Be it a parent, a grandparent, aunt, great uncle or an old acquaintance, in doing so, you may just make the difference in their lives.

A tale of ‘The Sweater Curse’ and social knitworking

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is over for the year but Texan, Elaine Liner takes a look back at her Edinburgh experiences and shares some of her marketing secrets.

Elaine Liner in Sweater Curse A Yarn About Love

Elaine Liner in Sweater Curse A Yarn About Love.

When I finally started telling my friends back home in Dallas, Texas, that I had written a play I’d be performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer, they all asked: “What’s it about?”

I usually said, “It’s about knitting.” And then they’d change the subject. Pretty sure most of them thought I was delusional. Who’d want to see a play about knitting performed by a 59-year-old Texan making her acting debut in a 30-seat theatre at the biggest arts festival on the planet?

Well, it turns out lots of people did. As I head home after 32 days in Edinburgh and 25 performances of Sweater Curse: A Yarn about Love, I’m still amazed and happy that, given more than 2000 choices of shows at this year’s Fringe, so many theatergoers took a chance on mine. I had five-star reviews and full houses, including the final Sunday.

When the lights would come up at a performance and I’d see patrons knitting and crocheting in their seats, I couldn’t help but smile. That’s what I’d envisioned as I spent a year rehearsing and polishing the play.

For months before I got to Scotland, I emailed knitting clubs in and around Edinburgh, inviting them to see my play at the Fringe and reminding them to bring their knitting. I Tweeted and Facebooked, too, making contact with yarn stores, pub and cafe knitting groups, and individual crafters, especially seniors. This, more than the usual “flyering” on the Royal Mile, brought me an audience I knew would understand my show.

Elaine Liner at the Big Knit


Through her contacts Elaine found out about and joined us for a fun Big Knit event

Because Sweater Curse isn’t really a play about knitting. If you saw it — and thank you to everyone who did — you know that my message is more than just a lesson in the history of putting stitches on needles.

What I want to share with this piece is a little journey through the knotty problems of finding love. And to let people of every age know that sometimes you have to “tink back” a few times in life to learn the tough lessons. Also, that age is no barrier to living your dreams, whatever they may be.

A big reason I came to Edinburgh with this show is that I will turn 60 this November. I’ve never had a “bucket list,” but this year I did develop a “Why not?” philosophy. Write a play based on my obsessions with knitting and my history of lousy boyfriends? Why not? Take it to the Fringe as a total unknown? Why not? Raise the thousands of dollars it takes to do that? Sure, why not?

And it happened. Best of all, my tribe of women and men who love making things, who love theatre … who love — they found me. And for 60 minutes in a tiny spot above Grassmarket, our lives were knitted together.

Now the question I keep hearing is: “Will you be back at the Fringe next year?”

At this moment, I can’t think of a single reason why not.

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Follow Elaine Liner on Twitter @TheSweaterPlay or on Tumblr at SweaterCurse.Tumblr.com. You can email her at SweaterCursePlay@gmail.com

Elaine also features in our Age Scotland video from the Big Knit event.