The vast majority of our nation's aging population will experience some decline in cognitive function with age. Therefore, the development of effective interventions to mitigate age-related cognitive decline is of critical importance in that those interventions might not only impact older adults' cognitive and daily life functioning, but ultimately, contribute to their health, well-being and quality of life. There is accumulating evidence that cognitive interventions targeting working memory are beneficial in that they show generalizing effects that go beyond what has been specifically trained, i.e. transfer effects, resulting in potential implications for public health, especially in an older adult population. Despite the promising results, more research is needed to make cognitive interventions more effective and more robust, and to uncover their underlying mechanisms. The current project addresses two goals. The first goal is pragmatic, with a focus on how to make our cognitive training intervention more effective by focusing on the implementation of motivational features and the intervention's optimal scheduling (i.e., spacing of training sessions). We also will investigate the potential additive effects of working memory interventions that are combined with other approaches, such as self- efficacy interventions or electrical stimulation, investigate the intervention's longitudinal effects, and explore whether any improvements extend to measures of everyday functioning. Second, this project addresses the most important question of any intervention research by investigating the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying improvement using structural and functional neuroimaging. Furthermore, the project will shed light on individual differences as moderating factors for training and transfer success. Given the sparse availability of effective cognitive interventions, the project will have important implications in that it will shed more light on the mechanisms of cognitive plasticity in old age, and serve as groundwork for future national and international grant proposals. For over a decade, the candidate has devoted her interdisciplinary research efforts to the investigation of working memory and related functions, as well as individual differences and age-related cognitive change. She is considered as a leader in the field of cognitive training, and her current projects that are funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA; 1R01AG049006 - 01A1) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES; R324A150023) aim to contribute to a better understanding of the underlying behavioral and neural mechanisms of learning and transfer by focusing on either older adults (NIA) or children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Even though the specific goals and the populations in the two projects are different, they do share the overall goal to increase the intervention's efficacy and to uncover mediators and moderators of training-related change. Nonetheless, the present project will focus on older adults, since it is the candidate's long-term goal to establish herself in the field of aging, and to ultimately conduct large-scale randomized clinical trials to investigate the efficacy of targeted interventions in populations that are at risk for dementia with the means of additional R01 funding or P01/center grants. The University of California, Irvine (UCI) supports the candidate with protected research time (75% or 9 person months) and provides an ideal research environment to conduct her translational work due to the multiple centers involving faculty from various schools and departments that are dedicated to the investigation of memory, aging, and cognitive development (e.g. the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, or the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory), and as such, provide many opportunities for intellectual discourse. The candidate has been engaged in collaborative projects with multiple faculty members at UCI, and furthermore, she has long-standing national and international collaborators (e.g., with faculty at the University of Michigan and the University of Queensland, Australia). For the duration of the proposed award, the candidate plans extended visits at those labs in order to further advance her methodological skills and to interact with distinguished faculty all over the world, which will further facilitate the candidate's career development and establish her recognition as an independent scientist. The K02 award would provide the candidate with protected time to focus on the development of her research program and allow her to foster her national and international collaborations, and thus, enhance the potential to make significant contributions to the field of cognitive training, aging, and brain plasticity. Her research program has translational potential given its interdisciplinary approach involving Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Gerontology, and Education.
The vast majority of our nation's aging population will experience some decline in cognitive function with age. Therefore, the development of effective interventions to mitigate age-related cognitive decline is of critical importance in that those interventions could not only impact older adults' cognitive and daily life functioning, but ultimately, contribute to their well-being and quality of life. The proposed work will have important implications in that it will get at the underlying mechanisms of cognitive plasticity in old age, and inform future research investigating the efficacy of targeted cognitive interventions in populations that are at risk for dementia.