Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Sherry Willis

Research Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
University of Washington
Tel: 206-281-4050 Box: 359115
website


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Sherry Willis’s research focuses on lifespan cognitive development, adult development and aging, cognitive interventions, midlife risks of cognitive impairment, and everyday functioning. Specifically, it addresses two 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.