The overall objective of the proposed work is to understand factors mediating and moderating transfer of learning in the context of training Working Memory (WM) systems in a diverse older adult population that is inclusive of individuals that may be at risk of Alzheimer?s disease and related dementias (AD/ADRD). There is accumulating evidence that WM training can be effective in older adults, however, to date, knowledge is extremely limited regarding the underlying mechanisms that mediate and moderate plasticity in WM systems, and what components of training give rise to transfer. Specifically, we will investigate whether there is an inhibitory control (IC) phenotype in older adults at risk of dementia that may explain some of the disparate results observed in the literature in terms of WM training outcome.
Specific aims are to test an Inhibitory Control (IC) model that predicts individual differences in how gamification of training using an n-back task differentially affects learning and transfer and contrast this with a General Cognitive Ability (GCA) model (Aim 1). We will further test the generalizability of the models using a complex span training (Aim 2), and furthermore, investigate applicability to Multisensory Facilitation (MF) where sounds supporting visual processing of task targets can promote learning and transfer (Aim 3). This proposal is transformative in that it seeks to understand how individual cognitive strengths and needs in older adults may have different requirements for training interventions. These studies are particularly important and timely given the current state of the field, which is fraught with controversy, and the lack of understanding of the relevant attributes of training and individual differences factors that give rise to successful training outcomes. Understanding the factors is critical to resolve the current controversies and to move towards a theoretical model of training and transfer. Performance in everyday life intimately relies on WM processes, thus, improvements in WM can benefit almost all aspects of our lives. This has driven a now multi- billion-dollar commercial market that has provided early generation training approaches, many of which are targeted at older adult populations who are at risk of AD/ADRD. The proposed research can shed light on the factors that mediate and moderate these types of cognitive interventions and address the extent to which some procedures may, and others may not, lead to improvements in real world cognition. WM deficits exist in a wide range of mental health conditions, cases of disease and brain damage, and in cognitive aging, and training approaches that promote better functioning WM systems can promote health and well-being in these groups. Further this research can elucidate approaches that may not work and help people avoid use of ineffective procedures. The proposed training software will be created on cross-platform game engines to enable us to bring the lab to the participants. In this sense, the research output has innovative and broad impacts that can be directly realized from the proposed research. Programs created in the proposed work will be made publicly available for research dissemination of personalized interventions that can support diverse populations.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is relevant to public health in that it aims to achieve greater understanding of, and creation of more effective, behavioral interventions for those suffering from age-related cognitive decline, such as that found in Alzheimer?s disease and Alzheimer?s disease and related dementias (ADRD). This research is aligned with the NIA mission of improving health and well-being of older adults who may be at risk to develop AD and ADRD, in that it seeks to understand individual differences that can be applied to improve working memory, which has the potential to give rise to personalized interventions that can be used on an outpatient basis. Thus, the proposed research cuts across the bounds of numerous NIH agencies, with our framework contributing to the missions of the NIA, NCI, NEI, NIMH, NIAAA, NINCD, NIDA, NINDS, in that all of these agencies work with populations who can gain direct benefits from successful approaches to mental fitness, and the NIH?s greater mission to seek knowledge that will result in enhanced health and a reduced burden of disabilities.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Stoeckel, Luke
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University of California Riverside
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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