Medical College of Wisconsin
Press Release

Study finds that education, good health, and positive emotional wellbeing contribute to improved memory health in older women

The study enrolled 2,228 older women who were followed longitudinally and underwent annual assessments of cognitive health.

By - Feb 29th, 2016 08:00 am

Researchers in the United States, led by Joseph S. Goveas, MD, at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Milwaukee, report that maintenance of optimal memory health in women over of the age of 80 is positively impacted by higher education, overall good health, positive emotional wellbeing, and higher physical functioning. Dr. Goveas is lead author of the study published in the 2016 issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences & Biological Sciences.

Dr. Goveas is associate professor of psychiatry, director of the Senior Health Memory and Mood Disorders Clinics, and training director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship Program at MCW.

The study was conducted as part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and the WHI Memory Study, efforts initiated in 1991 by the National Institutes of Health to catch up on research in women’s health. Prior to this initiative, biomedical research had focused disproportionately on white men, often neglecting prevention and treatment studies of diseases that are either unique to or more common in women and minorities. The aim of WHI is to expand biomedical and behavioral research to include diseases and conditions identified among women of all age groups.

This study focused on determining predictors of preserved cognitive function in women over the age of 80 years. The study enrolled 2,228 older women who were followed longitudinally and underwent annual assessments of cognitive health.

The results of the study found age, education level, income, race, diabetes, depressive symptoms, and emotional wellbeing,  among others, to be major factors associated with preserved cognitive functioning in women who survive to 80 years of age and older. Also, cognitively normal women in the study who were determined to sustain high preserved cognitive function over time were most likely better educated, reported higher levels of general health, positive emotional wellbeing, and had higher physical function.

Future studies will address how socioeconomic differences, as well as psychological and vascular risk factors, impact cognitive function among women who survive to 80 years of age.

Co-authors of the study include: Ira Driscoll, PhD (University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee), Hilary A. Tindle, MD, MPH (University of Pittsburgh), J. Carson Smith, PhD (University of Maryland), Shelli R. Kesler, PhD (Stanford School of Medicine), Oleg Zaslavsky, PhD (University of Haifa), Rebecca C. Rossom, MD (Health Partners Institute for Education and Research), Judith, K. Ockene, PhD, MEd, MA (University of Massachusetts Medical School), Kristine Yaffe, MD (University of California at San Francisco), JoAnn E. Manson (Harvard Medical School), Susan M. Resnick, PhD (National Institute of Aging) and Stephen R. Rapp, PhD, Patricia E. Hogan, MS and Mark A. Espeland, PhD (all at Wake Forest School of Medicine).

About the Medical College of Wisconsin

The Medical College of Wisconsin is the state’s only private medical school and health sciences graduate school. Founded in 1893, it is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and community engagement. More than 1,200 students are enrolled in MCW’s medical school and graduate school programs in Milwaukee, and 26 medical students are enrolled at MCW-Green Bay. A regional medical education campus is scheduled to open in Central Wisconsin in 2016. MCW’s School of Pharmacy will open in 2017 or 2018 with an initial class size of 60 students. A major national research center, MCW is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In FY 2014-15, faculty received approximately $158 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes, of which approximately $139 million is for research. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, MCW faculty direct or collaborate on more than 3,200 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,500 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 525,000 patients annually.

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