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Research group performing study, including local participants, on aging

A nearly 60-year-old social project is looking to focus its study on aging and cognitive health, both nationally and locally.

Project Talent is a national study that started in 1960 and was developed by the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit funded by the U.S. Office of Education, that looked into the lives of more than 400,000 high school students from 1,353 high schools across the country.

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Kelly Peters, the project lead for Project Talent, said the study originally focused on understanding what each individual child’s strengths and talents were to make sure they were set on the right path to enter a career in which they would excel.

However, researchers have recently sent out questionnaires to more than 20,000 people who participated in the original study, which include what was then Burbank Senior High School’s classes of 1960-63, to populate data and determine if there is any correlation between a person’s life experiences, lifestyle, genetics and environments on their memory and cognitive health.

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“One of the main goals of the current study that we’re doing is to look at some of these early-life characteristics and the relationship to later-life health outcomes,” Peters said. “In particular, we’re looking at the incidents of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related disorders.”

Determining whether there is a link to those health disorders will not be done solely with the information Project Talent receives from the current questionnaire, Peters said.

The findings in the new survey will be combined with the data from the original studies conducted in the 1960s, as well as follow-up studies performed by the nonprofit throughout the years.

Peters said there have been studies done one year, five years and 11 years after the initial study. There have also been studies on those who were in the military during the Vietnam War.

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Throughout the years, the research done by Project Talent has developed several findings, such as a wage-earning gap between men and women, as well as learning that schools need guidance counselors to help lead students down the right path.

Although there are thousands of participants the nonprofit could question, Peters said organizers narrowed down the sample group based on the schools the participants attended and to those who have siblings.

“We’re hoping that with this study and this large population, we will be able to start uncovering those nuances within those relationships to accurately identify what would be appropriate interventions, but also what time should they be implemented,” Peters said.

“This truly becomes a social issue if we’re not able to start making changes now and with the fact that our population just continues to get older as time goes on,” she added.

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