by Stephanie Gross
Salthouse, U.Va. psychology professor
How does aging affect cognition?
and Gil Black hope to age gracefully.
are in their mid- to late 70s and are, in fact, still graceful.
They are healthy, they think well and live well, but they also
find that they are sometimes forgetful, that tasks take longer
you start forgetting words, you start wondering if youre
on the verge of Alzheimers, Betty said. You
start to wonder how youre doing compared to other people
in your age group.
Blacks are participating in a new U.Va. psychology
department study to better understand how aging affects cognition.
The study, which will include up to 250 participants of varying
ages, is funded by a $1.27 million grant from the National Institute
on Aging. More than 180 people between the ages of 18 and 94 have
participated in the study, and investigators are looking for more
institute also has awarded nearly $1.5 million to the psychology
department for a long-term project to conduct doctoral training
for investigators in the field of adult development and aging
and to support postdoctoral fellows in the field of age-related
by Jenny Gerow
study participant Frank McMullen (in glasses) completes a
task on the computer while U.Va. student researcher Jason
Chin, who's administering the test, times him.
are looking for patterns, the systems of change that affect peoples
ability to remember, to reason, to see relationships as they age,
said Tim Salthouse, professor of psychology and primary investigator
for the cognition study. We know that as people age, our
memory and alertness and attention span decrease, we also do not
reason as well, or learn as quickly, and we do not retain as well
what we learn. Tests show that we begin our decline in our 20s,
and this decline continues throughout our lives as we age. This
study is designed to help us understand why this decline occurs
and what the consequences may be.
is most interested in how executive processes
the brains management system that, in effect, oversees all
other task-performing functions decline as people age.
is one of the nations leading cognition researchers. He
came to U.Va. two years ago to work closely with the psychology
departments strong cadre of aging researchers, particularly
in the area of longitudinal data analysis and modeling. This strength,
with the addition of Salthouses new investigative contribution,
helped U.Va. win both grants. This summer, the quantitative psychology
faculty in the department held a week-long workshop in longitudinal
research methods for researchers in aging from across the nation.
More workshops are planned.
are one of the leading departments in aging research methods,
said John Nesselroade, the Hugh Scott Hamilton Professor of Psychology
and principal investigator for the training grant project. NIA
recognized that we have people here who can help other researchers
develop effective methods of study in this important and complicated
area of aging research.
the baby boom generation ages, more people have taken an interest
in the effects of aging on their lives. Nesselroade and Salthouse
said that more funding will be available to researchers in coming
years for aging research, and U.Va. is poised to capitalize on
these new research opportunities.
question is, what is normal aging? Salthouse said. How
does lifestyle affect our ability to compensate for aging deficits?
We are trying to understand how the increased knowledge and experience
people accumulate as they age can help compensate for natural
an example, Vladimir Horowitz maintained his standing as a great
pianist as he aged by practicing fewer pieces more often, Nesselroade
said. He would play the slow sections of a piece slightly
slower, creating the impression that he was performing at a higher
level on the faster sections. It was his way of using knowledge
and experience to adapt to cognitive and physical declines.
psychologists have many methods for measuring cognitive abilities,
it is more difficult to determine how these abilities vary day
to day over time.
study attempts to overcome this by testing many people over a
great range of ages and by combining standard cognitive tests
with a day-to-day test that measures a participants response
time in conjunction with the persons current emotional state.
test includes the use of a Palm Pilot that can beep a participant
randomly at any time, day or night, during a one-week period.
The participant is expected to respond as quickly as possible
to a short series of questions regarding mood and level of alertness
at that moment, followed by a short test to measure response time
for matching a series of numbers.
want to see how people fluctuate over a period of time based on
factors such as stress the daily hassles and uplifts that
affect people, Salthouse said. The range of variability
may be a predictor of cognitive outcomes over time as a person
participants also take a variety of other tests during their three
two-hour sessions. Their spatial reasoning is tested, and they
are asked to compare letters and patterns, to remember words and
numbers and the details of stories. They are asked to mentally
fold paper, to keep track of items, to do two or more tasks at
responses are graded, then the data are entered into a computer
bank and compared with data from other participants of the same
age range and other age ranges and with other studies. These study
methodologies also will later be passed on to other researchers
through Nesselroades training grant.
hope to eventually understand what underlies the cognitive variability
that people experience as they age, Salthouse said.
and Gil Black, the study participants, hope the findings will
help seniors today and in the future to age gracefully.
are living longer, Betty said. Maybe we can help others
to maintain a good quality of life as they age.
information about participating in this study, call 243-3548.