Date of Award:

8-2018

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

JoAnn T. Tschanz

Abstract

The Cache County Study on Memory in Aging, funded by the National Institute on Aging, studied longitudinal changes in memory and aging over 12 years’ follow-up in a population-based sample of 5,092 older adults in semirural Cache County, UT. Among the extensive interview procedures, researchers collected information regarding the participants’ demographics, health, genetic factors, diet, physical activity, and cognitive abilities. This study has allowed researchers to investigate how genetic and modifiable lifestyle factors interact to predict health, cognitive function, and psychological wellbeing in older adults.

Diet and exercise are important lifestyle factors in maintaining cognitive health and psychological wellbeing throughout the lifespan, including late-life. The current investigation primarily focused on the link between these lifestyle factors and specific genes in predicting cognitive decline and risk for depression among older adults. Older adults are at risk for cognitive and mood changes as they age and certain genes may increase their vulnerability to these changes. However, it is possible that an older adult’s lifestyle behaviors regarding dietary pattern and physical activity may be protective against such genetic vulnerabilities. The genes investigated in this study are related to the production of a protein in the brain that promotes cell growth and survival. A better understanding of the relationship between lifestyle and genetic factors in late-life cognitive decline and depression may offer a better conceptualization of healthy aging and lead to more targeted diet and exercise recommendations. The present study found that engagement in moderate-vigorous physical activity was associated with slower cognitive decline whereas vigorous physical activity was associated with reduced risk for depression. Further, a specific gene was related to worse cognitive functioning among sedentary individuals. Alternatively, greater adherence to the dietary pattern investigated in our study did not reduce risk for depression and was beneficial for cognition in males only.

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Available for download on Tuesday, August 01, 2023

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