Sherry L. Willis


Ph.D. 1972, University of Texas at Austin. Lifespan cognitive development; Adult development and aging; Cognitive interventions; Midlife risks of cognitive impairment; Everyday functioning

Department: Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Position: Research Professor
Email: click here
Phone: (206) 281-4050
Box: 359115
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Research Summary:

Sherry Willisís research focuses on two broad but related questions regarding adult cognition and the role of cognition in maintenance of independent functioning by the elderly: The first question focuses on the impact of midlife health and functioning on risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. It is well recognized that there is a lengthy preclinical phase prior to diagnosis of dementia. Midlife health and functioning may increase the risk of dementia, or alternatively, may be a critical period for development of protective factors which delay or moderate the impact of cognitive impairment. Dr. Willis, as co-director of the Seattle Longitudinal Study has a NIH MERIT award to utilize longitudinal data to examine midlife factors contributing to cognitive functioning in old age. Midlife risk factors include genetic variables (APOE e4), early onset of cardiovascular disease, memory decline in midlife, and family history of dementia. Midlife protective factors include a cognitively challenging work environment, physical and intellectual engagement, family environment, and maintenance of cognitive abilities. The second project focuses on the potential of cognitive interventions to maintain independent functioning in old age. For the past 10 years, Dr. Willis has been a PI on ACTIVE, an NIA funded national behavioral intervention clinical trial. Dr. Willis developed one of the cognitive intervention programs employed in the trial. Five years after training, elderly in the intervention arm maintained a higher level of cognitive functioning on the abilities trained and reported less difficulty in performing activities of independent living compared to controls. Dr. Willis has published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Psychology and Aging, Behavioral Medicine, Generations, Journal of International Neuropsychology Society, European Journal of Ageing. The Seattle Longitudinal Study maintains a website with a public access data set and study publications here.

Recent Publications:

Yu, F.; Ryan, L. H.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (Forthcoming), Using multi-level modeling to understand factors associated with cognition in older adults: The Seattle Longitudinal Study, Journal of Nursing and Health.

Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (Forthcoming), The Seattle longitudinal study of adult cognitive developments, Bulletin of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development.

Boron, J. B.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (Forthcoming), The aging personality and self: Diversity and health issues, Brocklehurst textbook of geriatric psychiatry, Fillitt, H., Elsevier, New York.

Borghesani, P. R.; Madhyastha, T. M.; Aylward, E. H.; Reiter, M. A.; Swarny, B. R.; Warner Schaie, K.; Willis, S. L., (2013), The association between higher order abilities, processing speed, and age are variably mediated by white matter integrity during typical aging, Neuropsychologia.

Zanjani, F.; Downer, B. G.; Kruger, T. M.; Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W., (2013), Alcohol effects on cognitive change in middle-aged and older adults, Aging & Mental Health, 17: 1.

Brown, C. L.; Gibbons, L. E.; Kennison, R. F.; Robitaille, A.; Lindwall, M.; Mitchell, M. B.; Shirk, S. D.; Atri, A.; Cimino, C. R.; Benitez, A.; S. MacDonald, S. W.; Zelinski, E. M.; Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W.; Johansson, B.; Dixon, R. A.; Mungas, D.; Hofer, S. M.; Piccinin, A. M., (2012), Social Activity and Cognitive Functioning Over Time: A Coordinated Analysis of Four Longitudinal Studies, Journal of Aging Research.

Mitchell, M. B.; Cimino, C. R.; Benitez, A.; Brown, C. L.; Gibbons, L. E.; Kennison, R. F.; Shirk, S. D.; Atri, A.; Robitaille, A.; S.MacDonald, S. W.; Lindwall, M.; Zelinski, E. M.; Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W.; Johansson, B.; Dixon, R. A.; Mungas, D. M.; Hofer, S. M.; Piccinin, A., (2012), Cognitively Stimulating Activities: Effects on Cognition across Four Studies with up to 21 Years of Longitudinal Data, Journal of Aging Research.

Borghesani, P. R.; Weaver, K. E.; Aylward, E. H.; Richards, A. L.; Madhyastha, T. M.; Kahn, A. R.; Liang, O.; Ellenbogen, R. L.; Beg, M. F.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (2012), Midlife memory improvement predicts preservation of hippocampal volume in old age, Neurobiology of Aging, 33: 7, 1148-1155.

Madhyastha, T.; Borghesani, P.; Aylward, E.; Cherrier, M.; Askren, M.; Grabowski, T.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S., (2012), Effect of the APOE-4 allele on longitudinal changes in cortical thickness in normal aging, Alzheimer's & Dementia, 8: 4.

Gross, A. L.; Rebok, G. W.; Unverzagt, F. W.; Willis, S. L.; Brandt, J., (2011), Word list memory predicts everyday function and problem-solving in the elderly: Results from the ACTIVE cognitive intervention trial, Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 18: 2, 129-146.

Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L. (ed), (2011), Handbook of the psychology of aging, Elsevier, San Diego, CA.

Cardi, M.; Munk, N.; Zanjani, F.; Kruger, T.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (2010), Health Behavior Risk Factors Across Age as Predictors of Cardiovascular Disease Diagnosis, Journal of Aging & Health, 22: 5.

Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L., (2009), Adult Development and Aging Value Pack With Mysearchlab, Pearson College Div.

Siegler, I. C.; Poon, L. W.; Madden, D. J.; Dilworth-Anderson, P.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L.; Martin, P., (2009), Psychological aspects of normal aging, The American Psychiatric Publishing textbook of geriatric psychiatry, Blazer, D. G.; Steffens, D. C.; American Psychiatric, P., 137-156, American Psychiatric Pub., Washington, DC.

Unverzagt, F. W.; Smith, D. M.; Rebok, G. W.; Marsiske, M.; Morris, J. N.; Jones, R.; Willis, S. L.; Ball, K.; King, J. W.; Koepke, K. M.; Stoddard, A.; Tennstedt, S. L., (2009), The Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center's Symposium on Mild Cognitive Impairment. Cognitive Training in Older Adults: Lessons from the ACTIVE Study, Current Alzheimer Research, 6, 375-383.

Yu, F.; Ryan, L. H.; Schaie, K. W.; Willis, S. L.; Kolanowski, A., (2009), Factors associated with cognition in adults: The Seattle Longitudinal Study, Research in Nursing & Health, 32: 5, 540-550.

Revell, A.; Caskie, G.; Willis, S.; Schaie, K. W., (2009), Factor Structure and Invariance of the Quality of Life in Alzheimer's Disease (QoL-AD) Scale, Experimental Aging Research, 35: 2, 250-267.

Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W.; Martin, M., (2009), Cognitive Plasticity, Handbook of theories of aging , V. Bengtson, M. S., N. Putney & D. Gans , 295-322, Springer, New York.

Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W., (2009), Cognitive training and plasticity: Theoretical perdpective and methodological consequences., Restorative Neurology and Neursocience, 27, 1-15.

Willis, S. L.; Boron, J., (2008), Midlife Cognition: The association of personality with cognition and risk of cognitive impairment, Handbook on Cognitive Aging: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Alwin, S. H. a. D., 647-661, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Boron, J. B.; Turiano, N. A.; Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W., (2007), Effects of cognitive training on change in accuracy in inductive reasoning ability, The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 62: 3, 179-86.

Boron, J. B.; Willis, S. L.; Schaie, K. W., (2007), Cognitive training gain as a predictor of mental status, The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 62: 1, 45-52.

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