College of Liberal Arts

Grading Brain Health

Mon, May 13, 2019
A $12.9 million grant from NIA will fund research on how high school education effects brain health later in life.
A $12.9 million grant from NIA will fund research on how high school education effects brain health later in life.

High school experiences follow you long after you’ve graduated, shaping your professional success and even your health. Now, researchers are investigating how it could contribute to your future brain health and maybe even impact your likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s Disease.

University of Texas at Austin sociologist Chandra Muller researches how educational experiences shape life course outcomes, an area of expertise that helped garner $12.9 million from the National Institute on Aging for a national research project on how racial, ethnic, and other social inequalities in educational experiences impact cognitive functioning later in life.

“A major puzzle for researchers is to understand why and how disparities in education, race and ethnicity and even region impact who is protected against cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease,” says Muller, a faculty research associate in the university’s Population Research Center. “Even though most people have good cognitive functioning in their 50s, some show early indicators of impairment. Almost certainly the social environment they grow up in shapes who functions well as they age. And of course, genes also matter.”

The five-year study, led by University of Minnesota sociologist John Robert Warren, will rely on data from 25,000 surviving members of the High School and Beyond (HS&B) cohort — a nationally representative group of people who have been interviewed on several occasions since they were high school students in 1980, and a dataset Muller has a particular affinity towards.

Muller has worked closely the HS&B dataset since her first research experience as a graduate student, studying under the principal investigator who started the HS&B study for the US Department of Education. Recently, she led the HS&B Midlife Follow-Up study. And now, she looks forward to using the dataset once again with researchers from University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Colombia University to study how early disparities impact cognitive functioning at midlife.

We sat down with Muller to learn more about the study and how it could help move the needle forward on Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Read what she had to say in Life & Letters.


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