The best years of our lives? Body, brain and wellbeing

Tuesday 29 April 2014, 6.00pm

Event details

British Academy Debates

Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LU

Tuesday 29 April 2014, 6pm

Chaired by Simon Callow


What are the best years of our lives? What are the true consequences of an ageing brain and body? How do our genes, environments and lifestyles affect our older selves? Is it time to rethink what we perceive an older person is capable of? Should policy-makers, politicians and business leaders rethink issues such as retirement, flexible working and the way neighbourhoods are designed, to give us longer, fuller lives?


Professor Ian Deary FBA (University of Edinburgh) argues against global statements about the ageing mind. Some thinking skills decline with age, but not all of them. And some people’s thinking skills decline less than others, or hardly at all. What keeps some people's minds more efficient than others?

He considers social, psychological, medical, brain imaging, and genetic causes of these ageing differences. He draws from a range of research, including his team’s follow-up studies of the unique Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947.

Professor Catharine Ward Thompson (University of Edinburgh) explores the desire to get out and about, which is always with us. From accessing shops and services to having a walk in the park, being able to use the streets and green spaces around your home is vital to your quality of life. And quality of life is what matters as people live longer.

Conversely, if you are able to live at home but not actively in your community, you will be at risk of social isolation and physical inactivity. What aspects of the local environment support or frustrate healthy lifestyles and what are the consequences for neighbourhood design?


Sir Alan Peacock FBA, the distinguished British economist, nonagenarian and author of a new book ‘Defying decrepitude: A personal testimony’, who offers his own highly personal description of ageing.

Sally Magnusson, the BBC Scotland news presenter and journalist, whose book ‘Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything’ (published in February 2014) is based on personal experiences of caring for her mother.

For more information and to book your free place, visit The British Academy website.