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January 29, 2002
Vol. 28, No. 14



UT faces projected deficit; proposes $230 increase in student fees

Teresa Graham Brett named dean of students

Behavior of midwater fishes under Antarctic ice: Observations by a predator

Student group displays pro-life exhibit at West Mall area

Meningitis ruled cause of university student's death

New study examines effects of memory training

Endowed scholarship honors Myers

Researchers get $4.5 million to study child language therapy

New engineering chair made possible by $2.35 million gift

Global extinction rate reaches historical proportions

Special programs highlight celebration of Black History Month

Nichols named associate vice president for research

Texas Exes to honor teachers for their excellence as educators

Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action Program Policy Statement

University approves new policy for lighting UT Tower

Coral study challenges long-held theory on glacial cycles

UT research shows radiation zapping Mars may affect biological evolution

Growing number of U.S.-Mexican border residents using herbs to treat ailments

News Briefs

Faculty Council

UT researchers receive $5.5 million to study effects of curricular changes in schools

Dana Center receives $94,000 award for math education

KUT adds Marketplace and The World to its program lineup

Arete: Harlan Miller

Critics program Viewpoint 2002 begins on Jan. 31

UT student returns home to conduct Corpus Christi Symphony in Rockport




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New $2.4 million University of Texas at Austin study examines whether memory training has positive effect

By Nancy Neff

There is a great deal of truth to the words "use it or lose it," says a university researcher conducting a $2.4-million study on improving memory in at-risk elderly.

Eighty percent of all older adults have day-to-day concerns about their memory, said Dr. Graham McDougall, associate professor of nursing. His study aims to determine whether memory training intervention affects performance.

The five-year research project is funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.

"The study will address a major concern of aging and a public health problem in the United States and throughout the world," McDougall said.

Graham McDougall conducts memory training study
Dr. Graham McDougall, who has studied memory loss for 10 years, is conducting a five-year study of memory improvement strategies. The project is funded by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health.
Recruitment of the first class of participants for the study began on Jan. 7. Over the five years, about 350 participants will be recruited. Older adults at-risk for memory loss is defined as those who are 65 years of age and older, live alone, worry a great deal and have anxiety or depression. At particular high risk are those older adults who recently have suffered the death of a spouse or who are experiencing chronic illness.

Participants will be chosen from the Austin area and will be placed into two groups: One receiving the memory classes and a comparison group receiving health promotion classes. The health promotion classes will include sessions on consumer fraud, alternative medicine, drug interactions, exercise, nutrition, maintenance of relationships and Web sites for seniors.

The Senior WISE (Wisdom is Simply Exploration) Project will follow participants for two years and two months. Most of the testing will be done in the first four to six months.

"Older adults are capable of improving their memory, but whether a program like this can assist them to improve or maintain their instrumental activities of daily living is not known," McDougall said.

Most senior adults want to live independently in the community for as long as possible, and memory loss is one of the factors that make them at high risk for assisted living, said McDougall, adding that prospective memory — or remembering to do things — is especially important for maintaining independence.

"Education and cognitively demanding environments are considered important means of remaining mentally fit," said McDougall, who has studied memory loss for 10 years.

Memory improvement strategies will be taught in a series of eight class sessions, and learning will be reinforced through booster sessions strategically placed to enhance what participants have learned.

"There are several externally derived memory strategies, like keeping a calendar, writing a list or asking someone to remind you of something," McDougall said. "But we want older adults to learn more internal memory strategies, such as using association or 'chunking' — grouping things together."

McDougall and his collaborators will collect data on five occasions with face-to-face interviews over 26 months.

The university research team also will study the effects of the program on memory self-efficacy (confidence), anxiety, depression, memory performance and instrumental activities of daily living. How positively or negatively people perceive their memory skills strongly influences how well they can use these abilities, McDougall said.

"We know that the more confidence people have in their memory function the better they perform on memory tasks, and when they have strategies to help them think more positively about their memory skills, the better they perform," he said.

As we get older, we tend to lose confidence in our ability to remember, McDougall said. "We forget a familiar name or face and think we're 'losing it.' We set out to do something, forget what it was, and wonder if we have just witnessed an early hint of dementia."

Just being a participant in the study will help boost confidence, he said. "It helps to see that other people like yourself have similar concerns. You realize you are not alone."

Depression, too, can affect memory and must be treated, McDougall said. Many seniors who are depressed believe they have less capacity to remember and that their memory is declining, he said.

Throughout the study, participants will be tested to see if there is an enhancement in how they feel about themselves, and more specifically, their memory efficacy. "We expect to see an increase in memory performance scores after individuals attend the eight classes," said McDougall.

As baby boomers — the 80 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 — age, the questions surrounding memory loss will continue to be a topic, McDougall said.

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