Australia’s older generation (those aged 65 and over) is projected to more than double in size by 2057. Sadly, this increase is likely to be accompanied by an increase in the number of people facing cognitive decline and dementia.
But imagine if we could help preserve or protect our mental capacities throughout our lives and as we age by relying on the people and things around us?
We live our lives surrounded by internal and external, social and material supports or “scaffolding” – such as the people we love, technology we use, and objects and the landscape around us. These resources can become an integral component of the workings of our mind.
Cognitive scaffolding is so common as to appear unremarkable, but recently it has become the subject of new theory and research across philosophy, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology. Scaffolding may have benefits across the lifespan, but especially for individuals who need additional cognitive support. This includes people experiencing both normal age-related cognitive decline and pathological decline as seen in dementias.
Professor Simon Handley, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Human Sciences recently announced a new Faculty Research Centre for Scaffolding the Ageing Mind. This new enterprise will be led by Dr Celia Harris, an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Awardee. She is joined by her colleagues and collaborators from across the Faculty including Professor John Sutton, Dr Amee Baird, Professor Amanda Barnier, Dr Monique Crane, Professor Greg Savage and Professor Bill Thompson.
“This new Research Centre for Scaffolding the Ageing Mind will bring together researchers to understand how different kinds of internal and external scaffolding can be used to enhance memory, cognition, identity and wellbeing in older adults. This is important and timely research,” says Professor Simon Handley.
“We will study how older adults can benefit from social memory supports when they engage in activities such as remembering with their spouse, listening to music or dancing”, says Dr Harris. “We also will map how older adults draw on their own resources of resilience to overcome any challenges of ageing”.
This new Faculty Centre will enhance the innovation and productivity of Macquarie’s contributions to research on ageing. By revealing the ways in which individuals benefit cognitively from their social world, Dr Harris and her colleagues will help us understand how we all can lead healthy and happy lives, not just long lives.
To learn more about the Centre and how you can become involved, please contact Dr Celia Harris directly.