Ageing Playfully: Play and Games in Old Age

Launch of new UCL Grand Challenge Special Initiative project, 'Ageing Playfully', led by Dr Carrie Ryan and Professor Paul Higgs.

man playing large chess

Dr Carrie Ryan (Anthropology) and Professor Paul Higgs (Psychiatry) are pleased to announce that UCL's Grand Challenge Special Initiative panel has funded their project, 'Ageing Playfully.' This interdisciplinary project is supported by scholars across UCL, including Dr JD Carpentieri (IOE), Professor Helen Chatterjee (Biosciences) Professor Andrew Steptoe (Behavioural Science and Health), Dr Naaheed Mukadam (Psychiatry), and Professor Nick Fox (Neurology), and UCL doctoral students Moïse Roche (Psychiatry) and Pamela Almedia Meza (Epidemiology and Health Care).

‘Ageing Playfully’ explores the impact of play and games on older adult wellbeing from an interdisciplinary perspective. While in the West play and games are often seen as ‘mere frivolity,' recent scholarship shows how play and games are ‘serious’ contributions to ageing wellbeing, illustrating, for example, how online gaming combats loneliness, how bingo sustains community cohesion, how crosswords support brain health, and how table tennis supports dexterity and balance.

This project will take playful ageing seriously and convene researchers, non-profit organisations, and corporate actors to discuss and to develop interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches to analyse the place of play and games to ageing health. In doing so, this project answers global and national active ageing initiatives that seek to develop an evidence-base on the impact of activities on older adult wellbeing and builds on broader academic debates, including, for example, the gamification of health and the digitalisation of older adult engagements (especially during coronavirus). By understanding ageing through the novel lens of play and games, ‘Ageing Playfully’ challenges ageist perceptions of older adults as unchanging, boring, stubborn, and solemn, and instead calls attention to how older adults remain playful, inventive, creative, dynamic, and lively as they age.

The 'Ageing Playfully' project will support three initiatives: 

  • a scoping study to find researchers (particularly UCL academics), corporate actors, and community organizations who are interested in the topic of play and games in old age; 
  • an analysis of 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; 
  • and 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 in order to develop a truly cross-disciplinary research grant proposal. 

If you are interested in this project, please email Moïse Roche.