December 21, 2020 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chih-Hsiang (Jason) Yang, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science and the South Carolina SmartState Technology Center to Promote Healthy Lifestyles (TecHealth) and director of the ECHO Lab, has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Office for the Study of Aging Research Fellowship. The award, which is sponsored by the Arnold Institute on Aging, is designed to support Arnold School faculty and professional staff to conduct research in the multidisciplinary field of aging.
Yang, whose work employs a within-person approach to improve health across the lifespan, will use the award to better understand how sedentary behaviors (e.g., sitting, lying down) and light physical activity (e.g., walking, gardening, housework) may impact older adults’ cognitive function and well-being within a day and from day to day. Leveraging mobile technology, Yang will collect emotional, cognitive, and behavioral data among older adults who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The participants will wear activity monitors and complete surveys and cognitive tasks on a smart phone for seven days.
“Older adults are already the least active population across the lifespan, and they have become much more inactive during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this is a time-sensitive topic,” Yang says. “What we learn from this study can advance our understanding of the links between lifestyle activities, well-being, and cognition in everyday contexts, which, in turn, can inform strategies and public health messages to sustain brain health in older adults.”
Older adults are already the least active population across the lifespan, and they have become much more inactive during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this is a time-sensitive topic.
-Jason Yang, assistant professor of exercise science
Previous research suggests that being physically active is an important component of successful aging – not only in the prevention and management of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease but also for its role in improving cognitive function and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and related dementias. However, fewer than one third of older adults meet the recommended levels of physical activity to gain potential cognitive benefits. Further, older adults average more than nine hours of sedentary behaviors during waking time, which has been associated with higher risks of psychological problems and cognitive impairment.
While these studies provide an essential starting point for improving cognitive health for older adults, these findings are predominantly based on retrospective self-reports or in-lab cognitive assessments. “Both self-reports and in-lab assessments often fail to capture time-sensitive changes in response to the daily activities that occur in real life,” Yang says. “In addition, lab assessments tend to be time- and resource-consuming.”
This is where Yang’s specialty comes into play: ecological momentary assessment. He developed expertise with this method, which allows data to be collected (usually with the help of technology) continuously in an individual’s natural environment, during his doctoral program at the Pennsylvania State University and then his postdoctoral training at the University of Southern California.
His broader goal is to develop cost-effective behavioral interventions that capitalize on the temporal dynamics in behavior change within-person to sustain health over time. This research goal motivates Yang to continue studying the time-sensitive associations between movement-based activities and health outcomes within individuals across the lifespan.
Graduate Scholars in Aging
In addition to Yang’s fellowship, which is supported by the generosity of Norman J. and Gerry Sue Arnold’s gift to establish the Arnold Institute on Aging, two graduate students were selected as 2020 Graduate Scholars in Aging. Now in its fourth year, the Graduate Scholar in Aging Research Awards program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who exemplify the highest standards of scholarship focused on aging. The 2020 recipients are Katherine DeVivo (Exercise Science) and Samaneh Nemati (Communication Sciences and Disorders).
DeVivo completed a Master of Public Health in Physical Activity and Public Health, where she was an AFLAC Fellow and received her program’s outstanding student award. She has stayed at the Arnold School to pursue a Ph.D. in Exercise Science and is continuing to work with the South Carolina SmartState Technology Center to Promote Healthy Lifestyles (TecHealth). DeVivo will use her Graduate Scholar in Aging Award to support her research on sedentary behavior and physical activity among older adults who have had knee replacement surgery.
Nemati joined the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) program this fall after spending nine months as a research associate with the department’s Aphasia Lab and the UofSC Aging Brain Cohort. Nemati employs her bachelor’s and master’s training in biomedical engineering, as well as her two-year research associate position at Yale School of Medicine in neuroimaging, to her COMD research in the areas of cognitive/computational neuroscience and the neurobiology of healthy aging, neurodegenerative disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s), and language-related disorders. She will use her Graduate Scholar in Aging Award to support her investigation of the aging brain and cognitive associations.