British academy

The British Academy Debates

The Best Years of our Lives? Body, Brain and Well-Being

Tuesday 29 April 2014, 6pm
Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LU 

In April we held the third of the British Academy Debates on Ageing. It was introduced by actor Simon Callow via a short film. 

The event featured Sally Magnusson, Professor Ian Deary, Professor Catharine Ward Thompson, Professor James Goodwin and Henry Simmons.

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?


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.


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?


Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research, Age UK, who is responsible for commissioning  a wide portfolio of research to improve the health and well being of older people. He is also Visiting Professor in Ageing at Loughborough University.

Henry Simmons, Chief Executive, Alzheimer Scotland, who has over twenty years experience in the health and social care sector and is also chair of the NHS NES/SSSC Dementia Programme Board.

If you have any questions about this event please call the Events Team on 020 7969 5200 or email