Laura Beth Zahodne

Psychosocial protective factors in cognitive and brain aging

Research Project Description

Identifying potential targets for interventions to reduce age-related cognitive morbidity in diverse elders is of critical importance to the rapidly expanding aging population in the U.S. Substantial evidence from observational studies, including the K99 phase of the current study, suggest that modifiable positive psychosocial factors (i.e., well-being, self-efficacy, social support) are associated with better cognitive functioning among older adults. These effects are independent of negative affect (e.g., depression). However, little attention has been given to subgroups of older adults who are particularly vulnerable to age-related cognitive morbidity: African Americans, Hispanics, and individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In addition, it is unclear whether these positive psychosocial factors buffer against the negative cognitive effects of brain pathology, as measured with structural magnetic resonance imaging.

This proposal expands an existing community-based longitudinal study of multi-ethnic older adults at Columbia University. This diverse population is followed every 18-24 months with cognitive testing, medical evaluation, health measures, and consensus diagnoses of MCI/dementia. A subset receive structural neuroimaging. The K99 phase of this study added well-validated, computer-based measures of psychosocial functioning and cognition from the NIH Toolbox. The R00 phase of this study will use cross-sectional and longitudinal structural equation models (SEM) to test relationships between positive psychosocial factors, cognition, and quantitated measures of hippocampal volume, regional cortical thickness, white matter hyperintensity volume, and infarcts. The primary goal is to characterize the role of positive psychosocial factors in late-life cognitive decline and to determine whether they reduce the impact of structural MRI markers of brain pathology on cognitive functioning.

Funding: National Institute on Aging (4 R00 AG 047963 03)

Funding Period: 9/30/2016 to 5/31/2019