Verbal learning and memory testing has been a key mechanism for the assessment of abnormal cognitive aging, particularly in differential dementia assessment. The overarching goal of this application is to advance a programmatic line of research investigating observed memory performance discrepancies between healthy Spanish-speaking older adults from Hispanic descent and their Caucasian counterparts. The impetus for the proposed project is to address the need for better understanding of the relationship between demographic and cultural factors and performance on cognitive tests. In the case of verbal learning and memory testing, one possible explanation for the population discrepancy might be related to differences in the interpretation of verbally-presented instructions, which might lead t less effective learning strategies. It is possible that the novelty of tasks assessing memory may make it difficult for healthy Spanish-speaking older adults to effectively use organizational strategies, such as semantic clustering, during these tasks. To address this questions, the proposed study seeks: (1) To identify differences in performance and learning strategy use during a list learning memory test between Spanish- and English-speaking groups and comparing the impact of standard administration instructions to explicit strategy instructions, and (2) to better understand how demographic (i.e. age, education, socioeconomic status) and cultural (i.e. acculturation, 2nd language) factors are related to performance and strategy use in the standard list-learning task administration of Spanish- speaking older adults. To address these aims, 110 healthy, neurologically intact Spanish-speaking older adults of Hispanic descent and 110 healthy, English-speaking Caucasian older adults will be administered list- learning tasks in their dominant language. These tasks will consist of learning two separate 16-word lists with five learning trials administered for each list. For the first learned list, the stndard manual instructions will be applied. Two additional instruction sets have been designed: low explicit strategy instructions, in which participants are told that some people find that grouping words into related (i.e. semantic) categories helps them remember the words, and highly explicit strategy instructions, in which examples of semantic clustering are given and participants are asked to practice using the strategy prior to learning a list. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of these explicit strategy instruction conditions. It is predicted that the additioal instruction information will better aid Spanish-speaking participants, compared to English-speaking participants, in utilizing an effective learning strategy, and provide useful information for understanding the relationship between culture and cognitive organization.

Public Health Relevance

We currently lack a clear understanding of both the impact of culture on cognitive processes related to memory and how this relationship influences our ability to diagnose neurological disorders of aging in diverse groups. The proposed project will provided provide important information about the impact of test instructions on the verbal learning and memory performance of Spanish-speaking older adults during memory assessments and allow health practitioners to better meet their treatment needs.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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King, Jonathan W
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Georgia State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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