Project Talent Aging Study (2016-2020)

The Project Talent Aging Study (PTAS) is a major life course study on aging, that will provide information about age-related brain and cognitive changes, with a special focus on resilience. Beginning in late 2017, and continuing annually for three years, we will follow up with 40,000 of the original 377,000 individuals who participated in Project Talent. Extensive cognitive data will be collected, together with demographic data and information about work history, military service, educational attainment, health, mental health and personality attributes. Understanding early-life factors that contribute to the retention of deterioration of brain and cognitive functioning in older age can help policymakers determine targets for health promotion interventions. Project Talent, with its unique size, demographic diversity, and comprehensive data from 1960 and beyond, offers an unprecedented opportunity to understand how the factors that influence the aging process.

As part of PTAS, we will evaluate the association between certain early life experiences and later life cognitive health, including the relationship between higher educational attainment and a reduced risk of dementia, the long-term impact of school quality on brain health and whether there are racial or ethnic differences in the benefits of attending higher quality schools, and impact of socioeconomic disadvantage in adolescence on cognitive and psychosocial resilience.

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This study is being conducted with funding from the NIA (R01 AG056163-01; Prescott, Lapham and R01 AG056164-01; Manly, Lapham) and is part of a multi-site research team with University of Southern California, Columbia University and several other academic partners.

Race, School Quality, and Later Life Cognitive and Cardiovascular Resilience.

Impaired cognitive function and cardiovascular disease have been identified as consequences of early life socioeconomic adversity, particularly for racial minorities who suffer from these conditions at a far higher rate than their non-minority counterparts. Although the causes of this correlation remain unclear, educational experience appears to play a critical role. This study examines why some individuals who grew up in socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances demonstrate resilience to poor cognitive and cardiovascular outcomes and what role different school characteristics and school quality play in determining these outcomes. A central question of this study is whether there are racial/ethnic differences in the benefits of attending higher quality schools and in the ways that adolescent educational experiences influence later life health. The study also seeks to resolve contradictory findings on the effects of attending racially segregated versus integrated schools, findings with significant implications for contemporary education policy given that segregation in schools has been increasing in recent years.

Cognitive Resilience in Twins and Siblings.

Higher educational attainment has been proven to positively impact cognitive performance and lower dementia risk in later life. While possible explanations for this relationship range from the greater cognitive complexity of the occupations and leisure activities of more educated individuals, which preserve and enhance cognitive capacity, to individual and family characteristics and genetic factors, the exact mechanisms contributing to such cognitive resilience remain unclear, hindering the development of intervention programs to prevent, delay, and remediate age-related cognitive decline and promote cognitive resilience. Building on the Project Talent Twins and Siblings Study (outlined above), this study will utilize Project Talent’s twin and sibling cohort to identify genetic and environmental factors, in addition to individual and school characteristics, that may be responsible for the cognitive resilience exhibited by individuals with higher educational attainment.