Overman finds ‘crosspollination’ opportunities in summit that draws top experts on aging, memory
The recent Cognitive Aging Summit assembled nearly 300 researchers supported by National Institutes of Health grants who like Amy Overman, associate professor of psychology, are focused on age-related brain and cognitive changes.
Amy Overman, associate professor of psychology who helped create Elon’s neuroscience minor, recently gathered with top experts and researchers in the field of aging and cognition to share findings on how the brain and memory change with age.
The Cognitive Aging Summit was convened by the National Institute on Aging through funding by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation to the Foundation for NIH. It drew those, who like Overman, are conducting research with the support of the National Institute of Health. Overman in 2016 received a major three-year grant to support her research into age-related changes in memory.
Overman said the summit, which is the third since 2007, is not your typical conference with a regularly scheduled date, but instead is prompted by advances in the field of cognitive aging with a focus on bringing experts together to share findings, and also to look ahead at what gaps in research need to be addressed. This year’s summit in early April centered on the theme of “resilience and reserve” — how can adults be more resilient to memory impairment as they age, and how can they develop cognitive reserves.
“We were coming together as a community of researchers to tackle these challenges to help older adults become more successful with aging,” said Overman, who along with being a professor in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, is also associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning. “It really had that sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’”
The first summit in 2007 was followed by a second in 2010. It’s designed to bring together researchers that operate in different spheres, Overman said. For example, those who are focused on research related to the cellular changes in the brain or conduct research with non-human animals aren’t normally engaging with researchers, like Overman, who focus on tracking cognitive changes in humans.
Different sessions brought these experts into the same room, with panel discussions prompting questions and commentary across the broad spectrum of research into how the human brain and memory change as people age. “We heard these great questions that weren’t things that would normally occur to you inside your own discipline,” Overman said.
It was an opportunity for the “crosspollination of ideas,” Overman said. For instance, Overman shared lunch with a researcher who focuses on speech, which helped broaden her own perspective as she pursues her own neuroscience research centered on memory impairment. Researchers who conduct studies using rats were able to share findings that were similar to what Overman said she’s seen in her human studies.
Looking at gaps in research, those at the summit found that there needs to be more investigation into what the biological state of the brain is, and how that is tied to the behavior that is observed. Studies have found that sometimes the physical state of the brain appears to indicate cognitive impairment when there is none, and vice versa.
“It was transformative,” Overman said. “I was informed by the way that people were talking about things, and I have new ways of thinking that came from being at the summit.”
Overman’s $350,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health announced in May 2016 is funded under the NIH’s Academic Research Enhancement Award program that seeks to provide support to research and strengthen the research environment at schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support in the past. Her study is expected to provide information to be used to develop strategies that can help overcome memory difficulties experienced by heathy older adults and help identify the earliest signs associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory-related disorders.