Transport and ageing: extending quality of life for older people via public and private transport

Project lead: Professor Mary Gilhooly

Research team

  • Professor Mary Gilhooly

  • Dr Louise Phillips

  • Professor Phil Hanlon

  • Professor Ken Gilhooly

  • Ms Dominique Harvey

  • Ms Allison Murray

  • Ms Margaret Lothian


October 1999 - April 2002


Professor Mary Gilhooly
School of Social Work and Primary Care
University of Plymouth
Portland Square
Drake Circus
Plymouth PL4 8AA

Tel: +44 1752 23 3390 or +44 1752 23 3235


The central themes of this project are cognitive functioning (i.e thinking, reasoning, problem solving) and determinants of quality of life (QoL) in older individuals. Abilities that may be relatively well-maintained in old age, such as real-life, social and emotional problem solving will be investigated, and their relationship with QoL determined.

These problem solving questions have been devised in consultation with local older adults in order to guarantee that the problems are, in general, relevant to this age range. This is necessary in light of recent evidence which suggests that level of performance in problem solving tasks is maximal when the problems are tailored to the age and experience of the recipients. In addition, traditional measures of intelligence and memory, designed for use with adults of all ages, will be administered. It is expected that these will be a less reliable indicator of QoL in this age group.

Other components of cognitive functioning will be assessed, including lay concepts of cognitive functioning, attitudes to ageing and participation in cognitively challenging leisure activities with a view to determining their relationship to perceived QoL. Through in-depth interviews investigating individuals' implicit theories of their cognitive functioning, it is hoped to assess their perspectives of their own mental abilities and to determine the extent to which they deliberately engage in activities which will maintain their functioning.

The individuals to be included in this study were involved in a project which was carried in 1972. As part of this project, various aspects of individuals' health was recorded and this information is available for the current study. Therefore, an innovative feature of the present study will be to examine the relationship between previous health status and current cognitive functioning.

Aims and objectives

The broad aim of this project is to investigate the factors that predict the QoL of older adults.

The project will investigate the following hypotheses:

  • Mid-life risk factors will predict cognitive functioning in old age.

  • Social and emotional functioning will be better predictors of perceived QoL than psychometric abilities.

  • 'Real-life' problem solving abilities will be a better predictor of perceived QoL than traditional psychometric ability.

  • Age-related declines will be largest on psychometric cognitive tests, with socio-emotional functioning showing less or no decline.

Study design

A sample of 240 individuals aged 70 years and over who took part in the Paisley-Renfrew Epidemiological Study in 1972 will be selected for participation in this study. A structured programme of interviews and selected tasks (psychometric, 'real-world' problem solving etc.) will be carried out to measure cognitive functioning and QoL of older adults. In addition, lay concepts of changes in cognitive functioning with age will be examined via in-depth interviews.

Policy implications

By investigating the variables which explain the maintenance of good cognitive functioning in older adults, it may be possible to influence future service provision. For example, training programmes aimed at preventing cognitive decline and encouraging mental stimulation could be developed. Such programmes could be administered by community care workers and may allow individuals to remain independent for a longer period, thus reducing the need for residential and nursing care.