Points of View

Communication – an essential element of publicly-funded projects

By Rhonda Smith

(posted 19th March 2020)

Teams working on EU-funded projects have a contractual duty to share their aims, progress and results with a range of stakeholders – from policy-makers and governmental institutions, to civil society, the commercial sector and members of the public.

After all, what’s the point of the public purse funding health research if the results aren’t shared, applied and put to good use for the benefit of all of society?

That’s why communications is embedded in the design of the Silver Santé Study project and have been delivered since its launch in 2016. Through a broad range of channels – websites, social media, public meetings, publications, newsletters, newspaper articles, and TV and radio interviews – the Study’s communications team in partnership with  all its researchers are working hard to engage with and communicate the project’s work to lay and professional audiences. We identify news from our project partners of interest to the public and targeted stakeholders and write stories for the project websites and newsletters. For example, as scientific papers are published, we do our best to make sure the findings are communicated via external channels to as broad an audience as possible, stimulate interest and encourage engagement. Gathering and creating photos and audio visual material based on the work of the project’s research teams, managing the project’s social media accounts, and liaison with journalists interested in writing about mental health and meditation fills our working days..

The aim of the Silver Santé Study is to identify the determinants of a healthy later life and to develop programmes that we can all use to safeguard our mental health, well-being and quality of life as we age. Our researchers are examining whether mental training techniques – such as meditation or learning a language – can make a difference to well-being throughout the life course. What makes the study unique is that it’s the longest ever study of both meditation and language learning and it’s the first to examine the emotional aspects of ageing and mental health – all points that make the findings of great interest, particularly with regard to informing mental health policies.

As the project is now in its final year, our communications work will soon come to a crescendo helping to cascade methodologies, data and results  to a broad range of interested and influential audiences across Europe. The overall aim is to drive utilisation of that generated knowledge in the development of new policies and practices.  Click here to watch our short project video explaining our aims, the research, and what we hope it will achieve for both individuals and for society as a whole.

What is meditation?

By Martine Batchelor

(posted 12th December 2019)

Meditation – along with language-learning and health education – is one of the mental training activities being trialled in the Silver Santé Study to assess its impact on mental health and well-being in the ageing population.

Although meditation – or mindfulness – is now commonly referred to in everyday life, there are many misconceptions about what it is. One, for example, is that meditation is about clearing the mind of all thought. Another is that meditation is a religious practice. While most religions involved some kind of contemplative study, like meditation, the meditation studied in the Silver Santé Study is entirely secular and, while based on Buddhist meditation, it has been adapted especially for potential use for medical purposes.

Rather than clearing the mind of thought, meditation is about cultivating certain qualities that we already have but to a greater degree. One of the bases of meditation is to cultivate focusing, concentration, and anchoring and this means that you are given something to focus on – such as the breath, the body, a sound, or a question. Should your mind wander and start thinking about other things, you simply bring your thoughts back to what you were focusing on and you do this with a positive, friendly attitude. Each time your thoughts wander, you bring them back to what you were focusing on. So both elements are important – the technique, i.e. the focusing, and the attitude with which you do it, i.e. in a friendly way. Once you cultivate the focusing element, it helps you to become calmer.

It’s also important to remember that the aim is not to become the greatest meditator, it’s about helping us become calmer, clearer and more compassionate in daily life.

There are different types of meditation. Mindfulness, for example, is where you focus on something like the breath, the body, a sound, feeling or mental state and then you keep coming back to it in a friendly way. With that technique, it’s about being aware of the change of the breath, the change of sensation, etc. There are other types of meditation too – some focus on a question, while others, like loving kindness meditation, focus on being compassionate to oneself and to others. There are types that are reflective and others that focus on repeating phrases.

Meditation is suitable for most people to some degree.  It’s just like sport – it’s generally good for most people but not suitable for everyone. There are very few negative effects associated with meditation as long as it’s in light conditions. For example, a 7-day silent retreat is not suitable for everyone, but a weekly two-hour mindfulness session every week should be fine for most people.

My advice to anyone wanting to try out meditation would be to find a local course to get some guidance, and then to practice it regularly to see some benefit. Some people find that meditating 10 minutes each day works for them but others meditate for longer – whatever suits you best. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t need to be sitting down to meditate, you can do it walking, standing, sitting or lying down.

Watch Martine explain meditation in our short video below:

October 2019

Learning a second language and its impact on brain health and well-being

By Caitlin Ware

June 2019

Could brain training keep our cells younger?

By Dr Perla Kaliman

March 2019

The importance of qualitative data in the Silver Santé Study

By Stephano Poletti, Centre for Research on Neuroscience, Lyon

January 2019

A first taste of mindfulness meditation

By Charlotte Reid, Minerva

September 2018

“Cosmonaut for a night”: The experiences of a Silver Santé volunteer

By Mareike Smolka, University of Maastricht

June 2018

Sleep well to age well

By Dr Géraldine Rauchs

March 2018

A year of learning through the eyes of instructors

By Caitlin Ware, Inserm

December 2017

Responsibility in the Silver Santé Study means caring for others

By Mareike Smolka, University of Maastricht

September 2017

What is a memory clinic?

By Frank Jessen, University Hospital Cologne

March 2017

Emotions and their lasting impact on the brain

By Sebastian Baez, Ph.D. Candidate

December 2016

Can healthy lifestyle choices help prevent dementia?

By Dr Eider M Arenaza-Urquijo