Ellen Tsaprailis, January 12, 2022
Photo credit: Lindsay Ralph

New Canada Research Chair John Anderson Will Explore Factors To Delay Age-Related Cognitive Decline

John Anderson has been awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair designation in Cognition and Wellness.

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Cognitive Science and Psychology, Anderson is also the Director of Carleton’s new Cognition and Neuroscience of Aging Lab (CANAL Lab). His research will focus on how contextual factors and lifelong experiential factors collectively delay age-related cognitive decline.

“I’m hoping to uncover the set of circumstances that enable older adults to have the best possible cognitive ability,” says Anderson.

John Anderson is the Canada Research Chair in Cognition and Wellness

Contextual factors include time of day, caffeination, sleep deprivation and mood while experiential factors include exercise, bilingualism and education.

Anderson’s research will generate new knowledge about how these factors interact to best predict older adults’ cognitive wellness.

“At Carleton and CANAL Lab, we’re really looking at the interactions between these things and nobody has really done this,” says Anderson. “We will look at testing people at an optimal time of day and whether or not that is impacted by a high level of cognitive reserve or low level of cognitive reserve. My prediction is that possibly people who have lower cognitive reserve will benefit more from these contextual scaffolds, but that hasn’t really been well-tested.”

Research has shown that high levels of education and speaking at least two languages has neuroplastic effects according to Anderson. Add in cardio exercise and eating a nutritious diet, these lifestyle factors can affect inflammation levels and whether the brain promotes growth or breeds a toxic environment. Neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization.

Studying the effects of these contexts and the resulting long-term effects on the brain of older adults will help Anderson define and promote the best set of circumstances for adults to consider utilizing to drive better mental acuity and sustain levels of cognitive reserve for the long haul.

“You’ve probably heard that Alzheimer’s disease builds up over 20 to 30 years, so by the time you get somebody in older age who is coming into the lab, they may be a little bit worried about their memory,” says Anderson.

“What we would like to have seen is to have spoken to this person 20 or 30 years ago and told them, ‘Here are the types of lifestyle changes that you can make.’ Now these lifestyle changes everybody knows about but nobody really thinks about them in terms of what’s going to happen to you 20 or 30 years down the line with memory?”

Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs
Tier 2 Chairs are intended for emerging scholars who have demonstrated particular research creativity and innovation, with the potential to achieve international recognition in their fields, as well as showing a strong commitment to attracting and developing excellent trainees, students and future researchers.

The Government of Canada established its Canada Research Chairs program in 2000.

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