National Institute on Aging gives Fairfield University assistant professor of psychology more than $129,000 to study cognitive decline in older adults


Image: Linda A. Henkel

Can repeated attempts to remember make it more likely that you will "remember" something that didn't happen? 

Yes, said Linda A. Henkel, Ph.D., who has been awarded an Academic Research Enhancement Award of $129,424 from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging to study that phenomenon in older adults as compared with younger adults.

"Older adults show a very high tendency to think that they saw something that they actually didn't see," said Dr. Henkel, an assistant professor of psychology at Fairfield University.

Specifically, Dr. Henkel will seek to determine the impact of repeated attempts at recollection on true and false memories, examine the cognitive process included in successful and distorted memories and explore factors that can minimize age-related declines in memory. Much of the study will consist of memory tests that adults of varying age groups will take.

"We'll be looking at comparisons across age groups," Dr. Henkel said, adding that she also hopes to better understand what changes in the brain produce cognitive declines.

"Cognitive decline is a serious problem that many older adults face, and it can greatly affect their well being and quality of life," Dr. Henkel said. She hopes that the project's findings will benefit older adults by providing insights into some causes and remedies of age-related memory declines.

The AREA grant is intended to fund projects that will enhance opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research as part of their studies. Dr. Henkel will rely on a team of student research assistants to help put together materials and administer the memory tests to subjects.

Dr. Henkel will also be aided by Yale University professor of psychology Marcia K. Johnson, Ph.D., who will act as a consultant in design and statistical analyses in the study.

"Professor Henkel's work is not just important for the obvious reasons, but for our evolving times, as well," said Dr. Timothy Law Snyder, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Fairfield University. "As we live to older and older ages, the integrity and gift of human memory must be understood better and, as much as possible, preserved. We are proud of Professor Henkel's continuing contribution to this area of cognitive knowledge."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 15, 2002

Vol. 35, No. 124