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Successful aging – A study of how bilingualism and choice of occupation contribute to preserve attention and memory across the adult life span

Research project Is it possible to train our memory by speaking two or more languages or by choosing professions requiring high mental load? Previous research studies in this field are limited and the results sprawling. In this study we aim to answer relevant questions within these research fields.

In the research community there is an ongoing discussion whether it is possible to train attention and memory. Research shows that among people who speak two or more languages and people who work / worked a long time in occupations that require high mental load perform better on certain memory tasks and seems also to establish some form of protection against dementia. In this project we aim to investigate questions like these by studying individuals' performances in attention and memory tasks over time, through both an existing database (Betula database) and a new longitudinal data collection.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2015-07-01 2020-07-01

Funding

Knut and Alice Wallenbergs Foundation, 2015-2020: SEK 5,000,000

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Project description

People are living longer which leads to the important question of improving the quality of life in older age and in particular of how to combat the effects of cognitive decline. Bilingualism and complexity of work (CW) are two activities that have been suggested as possible factors that may improve successful aging. Bilinguals and individuals that have/had a mentally demanding occupation not only perform better in certain memory and attention tasks, it would also appear that they are less likely to develop dementia. However, specific knowledge is lacking about what advantages these activities may provide and if they are stable over time. There are some indications that the degree of benefit is directly related to the amount of cogntive activity – the more you activily use cogntive systems like memory and attention during your lifetime, the more likely these systems will contiue to work efficiently in old age. Based on one of the largest longitudinal memory databases with data from individuals over a 25 year period, this project will launch a new longitudinal study looking specifically at how bilingaulism and CW affect cogntive abilites over time. While it may not be suprising to find that the life-long training aquired in specific cogntive tasks used in these activities lead to sustained levels of functioning, it would be valuable to discover if then these advantages transfer to other complex tasks that can become difficult in old age such as driving or learning new skills/routines. Thus, this project will include new memory and attentional tasks as well as measurements of performance in naturalistic settings (i.e. simulated driving). This project will develop a new theoretical framework for understanding how intellectual work demands and bilingualism affect cognitive aging and investigate the consequences of any advantages for successful aging.

Key Words: Bilingualism, Aging, Work complexity,Memory, Dementia,Language, Dementia,Attention, Working Memory