Points of View

Quality of life and brain health in older adults

By Valentin Ourry

(posted 16th March 2021)

Ageing well is not just having good cognitive and brain health, it is also having good physical and mental health – a good quality of life.

The World Health Organization defines quality of life as “individuals’ perceptions of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. This  encompasses many aspects – or domains – including physical health, psychological health, social relationships, as well as our relationship with the environment [1].

As we age, quality of life can decrease [2]. Interestingly, previous studies have shown that better quality of life is related to greater brain volume in older adults [3], [4]. However, these studies did not look at the multi-faceted domains of quality of life with multimodal brain measurements. Yet this is crucial to better understand the mechanisms of the relationship between quality of life and brain health, and more specifically: i) to identify the specific aspect of quality of life that is more related to brain health, and ii) to provide a comprehensive overview of the nature of the relationship.

In our study [5], we included the 135 participants of the Age-Well cohort from the Medit-Ageing project. Participants completed a multi-domain quality of life questionnaire devised by the World Health Organization. Using a range of neuroimaging techniques, we were able to obtain their detailed brain characteristics: grey matter volume (density of neurons), white matter microstructural integrity (density of axons), perfusion (quality of blood circulation) and amyloid deposition (one of the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease). We then assessed whether there were any links between each quality of life domain and each brain characteristic. Interestingly, we found that better quality of life, particularly physical health, was related to brain structures (greater grey matter volume and white matter microstructural integrity) in regions relevant to ageing. No link was found with brain perfusion or amyloid deposition. The results highlight the relevance of monitoring and promoting quality of life in the older population, and particularly self-perceived physical health.

Better understanding the relationship between quality of life and brain health in ageing is an important part of the Medit-Ageing project. This is because we believe that mental training may help us to age well and maintain a good quality of life – one of the main goals of the Medit-Ageing project.


[1]       The WHOQOL Group, “Development of the WHOQOL: Rationale and Current Status,” International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 24–56, Sep. 1994, doi: 10.1080/00207411.1994.11449286.

[2]       G. Netuveli, R. D. Wiggins, Z. Hildon, S. M. Montgomery, and D. Blane, “Quality of life at older ages: evidence from the English longitudinal study of aging (wave 1),” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 357–363, Apr. 2006, doi: 10.1136/jech.2005.040071.

[3]       V. Elderkin-Thompson, M. Ballmaier, G. Hellemann, D. Pham, H. Lavretsky, and A. Kumar, “Daily Functioning and Prefrontal Brain Morphology in Healthy and Depressed Community-Dwelling Elderly,” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 16, no. 8, pp. 633–642, Aug. 2008, doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181794629.

[4]       S. Hahm, M. Lotze, M. Domin, and S. Schmidt, “The association of health-related quality of life and cerebral gray matter volume in the context of aging: A voxel-based morphometry study with a general population sample,” NeuroImage, vol. 191, pp. 470–480, May 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.035.

[5]       V. Ourry et al., “Association of quality of life with structural, functional and molecular brain imaging in community-dwelling older adults,” NeuroImage, vol. 231, p. 117819, May 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117819.

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.

December 2019

What is meditation?
By Valentin Ourry

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