Pensioners urged to ‘be your own pharmacists’ through breathing exercises and hitting goals

‘Do not let the old man or woman in’, psychologist tells audience at Age Well Expo

A Trinity College Dublin psychology professor held an audience of 60-somethings and pensioners spellbound on Saturday, urging them to “be your own pharmacists”.

Addressing a capacity attendance at the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Age Well Expo in the Leopardstown Pavilion, Prof Ian Robertson, emeritus professor of psychology at TCD, told his audience “we can change our brain chemistry by what we do and think”.

“That feelgood feeling, that nice feeling we get” was a result of chemical messengers in the brain, he said, the levels of which a person can change themselves through breathing exercises.

He said closing the eyes and breathing in for four seconds followed by breathing out for six seconds “is the defrazzle pill you can give yourself to change the chemistry in your brain that changes your thinking and emotions and your behaviour”.


“Here you have in your own disposal your own doctor, your own pharmaceutical,” he said.

Remarking that he has never taken cocaine, Prof Robertson said a chemical messenger associated with cocaine is dopamine. He said “what really, really increases our dopamine levels is achieving, feeling a sense of success and achievement”.

“If you set clear goals for yourself and achieve these goals, your brain will respond with increased dopamine,” he said.

Examples of goals which might be set included learning a language or joining a choir, and Prof Robertson agreed with one participant that learning to walk backwards down the stairs would also do, although he said he himself would opt to learn the piano.

There was no doubt that impairment associated with age was “partly disease, ill health”, but he said it was also partly down to lifestyle, and he urged his audience not to become restricted by bodily impairment or a reluctance to challenge their brains. “Do not let the old man or woman in,” he said.

Prof Robertson, whose address was entitled Confident Ageing, was one of a number of speakers offering advice at the free-of-charge event, organised by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in association with the dlr Age-Friendly Alliance.

Celebrity chef Tara Walker gave cookery demonstrations entitled Healthy Cooking for One. Dr Ann Monaghan from TCD’s The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) presented a discussion entitled Age with Purpose.

Among the exhibitors were Age Action Ireland, An Garda Síochána, adult education services, men’s sheds and the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament. Age Action was promoting its Getting Started Kit, which details how older people can improve their digital literacy skills so they can stay connected, informed and supported.

Further information on inclusive participation was promoted by the drl Age-Friendly programme.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs) was also represented, as was the LGBT Champions Programme – a training programme for health and social professionals to assist them in caring for the particular needs of older LGBTI+ people, many of whom have lived through a history of oppression and struggling for acceptance and respect.

Mary Hanafin, cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said the event highlighted “the importance of bringing together the many organisations, groups, services and activities that support older people to age well in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown”.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist