UCL Grand Challenges


Ageing Playfully: Play and Games in Old Age

A pan Grand Challenges project funded by a special initiative.

an image of an elderly man playing with a giant chess set

3 October 2020


Grant: Grand Challenges Special Initiatives - Age
Year awarded: 2020-21
Amount awarded: £7,200


  • Carrie Ryan, Department of Anthropology, Social and Historical Sciences
  • Paul Higgs, Department of Psychiatry, Brain Sciences 

Games and play are important aspects of older adult lives but have not received much attention from researchers. In the West, play and games are often seen as ‘mere frivolity’. However, recent scholarship argues that such activities are ‘serious’ contribution to ageing well. UCL’s Grand Challenges Special Initiative panel has funded the ‘Ageing Playfully’ project led by Dr Carrie Ryan (Anthropology) and Professor Paul Higgs (Psychiatry). This project will take playful ageing seriously and convene researchers, non-profit organisations, and corporate actors to discuss and develop interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches analysing the place of play and games in ageing health. ‘Ageing Playfully’ challenges ageist perceptions of older adults, and instead calls attention to how older adults remain playful, inventive, creative, dynamic, and lively as they age.

After conducting a scoping study and analysing data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, the China Health and Retirement Survey, and the CLS-LHA COVID-19 Survey in Five National Longitudinal Studies to explore the social and biopsychosocial impact of game-playing on older adults, the project team held a symposium in June 2021 to congregate all interested parties together to discuss the place of play and games in old age from diverse disciplinary perspectives. 

Additional collaborators

Dr JD Carpentieri (IOE)
Professor Helen Chatterjee (Biosciences)
Professor Andrew Steptoe (Behavioural Science and Health)
Dr Naaheed Mukadam (Psychiatry)
Professor Nick Fox (Neurology)
Moïse Roche (Doctoral Student in Psychiatry)
Pamela Almedia Meza (Doctoral Student in Epidemiology and Health Care)

Impacts and Outputs

  • The team has secured further funding (£15,000) from UCL HEIF to create an Ageing Playfully Network. The aim of the network is to brings together academics, community actors, and corporations to catalyse synergy in the ageing, games, and play space. As a result of the public seminar that was held in June 2021, the network already involves partners in 5 continents, and local organisations, including the UK's own National Activity Providers Association.
  • Ageing Playfully featured on BBC News and in a BBC podcast
  • The team is also working on a journal article about the importance of playful ageing.

The Ageing Playfully project exhibition panel at the Grand Challenges, Grand Impacts exhibition, 2023