Our Research

Our Research

Our Research

Researchers at the Centre have been investigating Ageing, Cognition, and Wellbeing under a number of different themes. Some of our Current and Past projects are listed below.

Current Projects

Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Ageing

Elderly lady looking out window 
Testing the effectiveness of a new Psychological intervention for older adults with depression and anxiety

Our multidisciplinary team have developed evidence-based low intensity and moderate intensity interventions for depression and anxiety in older adults which we have demonstrated to be efficacious in a number of randomised controlled trials. This project is co-funded by the NHMRC and Beyond Blue (2018 - 2022):

Translating Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions for Older Adults with Depression and Anxiety into Public and Private Mental Health Settings Using a Stepped Care Framework - Wuthrich,V., Rapee, R., Draper, B., Brodaty, H., Cuijpers, P., Cutler, H., Hobbs, M., Johnco, C., Jones, M.

For more information on how to participate in this study click here.

Contact: Viviana Wuthrich

Elderly lady using computer 
Improving mental health and social participation outcomes in older adults with depression and anxiety

Psychological interventions for older adults with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation need to be improved to maximise mental health, wellbeing and social participation outcomes. This project aims to evaluate the efficacy and cost-efficacy of this new enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) plus social participation program compared to our standard transdiagnostic CBT program. This project is is co-funded by the NHMRC and Beyond Blue (2018 - 2021):

Improving Mental Health and Social Participation Outcomes in Older Adults with Depression and Anxiety - Rapee, R., Wuthrich, V., Draper, B., Brodaty, H., Cutler, H., Low, L., Georgiou, A., Johnco, C., Jones, M.

For more information on how to participate in this study click here.

Contact: Viviana Wuthrich

Group of older adults 
Exploring the roles of proactive coping and self-compassion in older adults.

Planning for future care needs is a way of preparing for upcoming stress which affects older adults. Models of proactive coping have however not considered how the way older adults perceive and react to changes in their self and their emotions may influence their well-being. The process of being self-compassionate rather than self-critical will be considered as one factor potentially contributing to the process of proactively planning for the future, and to well-being in later life.

Research Team: Sumirta, R., Ferguson, S., McMahon, C., Sweller, N.

Contact: Sue Ferguson

Close up elderly man 
Fear learning in late-life anxiety disorders: Can we reduce fear and prevent it from returning?

With an ageing population, around 1.5 million older Australians are predicted to have an anxiety disorder by 2050, yet little is known about the learning mechanisms that underlie late-life anxiety. This project will examine 1) the impact of older age and anxiety disorders on fear learning and recovery, and 2) the efficacy of a novel behavioural technique to prevent fear from returning. This research will drive future treatment research that will use this knowledge of learning mechanisms to improve the efficacy and durability of treatment for late-life anxiety.

Research Team: Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R.

Contact: Carly Johnco

Man at computer 
Defining diagnostic response and remission using self-report measure in late-life anxiety and depression

The Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) is a commonly used measure of treatment outcome in clinical trials for older adults with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This project is a multisite collaboration and secondary data analysis that utilises signal detection analyses to generate empirically generated optimal guidelines for defining treatment response and remission using the PSWQ.

Research Team: Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V.,  Wetherell, J.,  Brenes, G., Mohman, J.

Contact: Carly Johnco

Older and Younger Adult 
Differences in Emotional, Behavioural and Cognitive Reactivity to Recent Traumatic Events between Younger and Older Adults

This program of research aims to further understand age-related differences in the cognitive, emotional and behavioural mechanisms between younger and older adults that might explain the decreased prevalence of PTSD in older adults. In a series of studies, our research will examine differences in cognitive and behavioural processes, and in emotional reactivity between younger and older adults who have recently experienced a similar stressor.

Research Team: Green, T., Wuthrich, V., Johnco, C.

Retirement and Ageing Workers

Retirement money 
Designing time perspective based retirement interventions to promote retirement planning

Does focusing on the past, present or future promote better retirement planning? There are two competing perspectives on the role of time perspective in promoting planning behaviour. One perspective is that combining past, present and future time perspective (i.e. a balanced perspective) works best while the other indicates that a preference for either the past, the present or the future dominates behaviour(i.e. a dominant time perspective). An online training program is being developed to determine whether people respond better to one type of training than the other with the intention of promoting better on-going goal setting and planning.

Research Team: Earl, J., Mooney, A., Batemen, H.

Contact: Joanne Earl

Retirement Sign 
Understanding the role of Time Perspective in post-retirement planning

Much of the focus on retirement planning research has been on pre-retirement planning but other recent research demonstrates the valuable role that post-retirement planning plays especially in relation to promoting mastery. This study enables data collection within a USA based retirement village to determine the relationship between retirement planning, goal setting and time perspective. From the findings we hope to determine whether tailored made time perspective based interventions are viable for older populations.

Research Team: Mooney, A., Earl, J.K., et al. in cooperation with the ACTS Retirement (see here for more details https://www.actsretirement.org/)

Contact: Joanne Earl

Retirement Couple 
Cognitive decline and financial literacy sponsored by the Institute of Chartered Accountants and National Seniors Australia.

There are two risks with undiagnosed decline of cognitive functioning when managing large amounts of money at older age. In one instance people may have an undiagnosed decline and fail to recognise financial scams; other people may believe that there is a decline, where none exists, and prematurely abdicate responsibility for management of their financial affairs leaving themselves vulnerable to financial abuse. Seedling funding for this project was provided by the Chartered Institute of Accountants to help us identify the right protocols to use. In 2017 National Seniors Australia sponsored the first wave of data collection and in 2018 we followed participants progress across self-rated cognition and assessed cognition using tablet based technology from Cambridge university. Go here to find out more about the project: https://nationalseniors.com.au/research/health-and-aged-care/better-ways-of-assessing-cognitive-health

Research Team: Earl, J., Gerrans, P., Hunter, M.

Contact: Joanne Earl

Doctor Online 
Designing online training modules to promote retirement planning amongst GPs sponsored by the Avant Foundation.

In 2017 we published articles indicating that Doctors delay retirement more than others due in part to significance they attach to their roles and a concern about finances. This project extends the original research by providing online training modules to assist doctors to consider their options, better understand the transition process, and place greater emphasis on their health, wealth and social connections ahead of retiring.

Research Team: Wijeratne, C., Earl, J.K., Gordon, J., Mooney, A.

Contact: Joanne Earl

Playing Golf 
Designing a dynamic resource based online quiz and training modules to facilitate retirement planning in cooperation with National Seniors Australia.

This project is an extension of earlier work undertaken by Leung and Earl (2012) focusing on the development of a retirement quiz based on the dynamic resource model of retirement. In the earlier work a quiz based on the dynamic resource model of retirement was created with the assistance of National Seniors Australia. This project enabled the quiz to be converted for online delivery and supported by online training modules promoting each of the different resource areas namely health; wealth; social; cognitive, emotional and motivational.

Contact: Joanne Earl

Hearing Loss and Cognition

Couple Worried 
Investigating the Support and Communication Strategies Practised by Couples Where One Partner Has A Hearing Loss: A Qualitative Study (2019-ongoing)

Research Team: Barnier, A., Strutt, P., Wright, M., Wuthrich, V., Neal, K., Pellicano, L., Hart, C.

Contact: Amanda Barnier

Deaf Older Man 
Addressing the modifiable risks of cognitive decline and dementia: Can hearing treatment combat communication difficulties, social isolation and depression? (2018-ongoing)

Research Team: Barnier, A., McAlpine, D., Edwards, B., McMahon, C., Savage, G., Wuthrich, V., Scanlan, E., Psarros, C.

Contact: Amanda Barnier

Scaffolding Memory in Ageing

Music Listening elderly women 
Characterisation of music and photograph evoked autobiographical memories in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Music evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) have been documented in people with Alzheimer's disease (AD), but it is unclear whether music is more effective than other familiar stimuli at evoking memories. To explore the frequency and specificity of memories in response to famous songs compared with photographs of famous events (photograph evoked autobiographical memories, PEAMs), and whether stimuli from the period of the reminiscence bump (10-30 years of age) were more likely to elicit memories. Our findings indicate a preserved mnemonic effect of music relative to pictures in this patient population, corroborating suggestions that MEAMS represent an island of preservation during the progression of dementia.

Publication: Baird, A., Brancitisano, O., Gelding, R.W. &. Thompson, W.F. (2018). Characterization of music and photograph evoked autobiographical memories in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 66(2):693-706. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180627.

Cognition and Ageing

Older man reading 
Revealing the Implications of reading strategy for reading behaviour and comprehension - Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK)

This project examines the strategies (e.g., skimming) that skilled readers might adopt to efficiently process text.

Research Team:  White, S. J., Paterson, K., & Reichle, E. D.

Contact: Erik Reichle

Elderly men talking 
Cognitive load in the bilingual brain: Insights from disengaged reading - National Institute of Health (NIH, USA)

This project examines if being a proficient bilingual might ameliorate mindlessness during reading and other tasks, using eye movements to detect lapses of attention.

Research Team: Goldinger, S. D., Reichle, E. D., Papesh, M. H., & Tokowicz, N.

Contact: Erik Reichle

Past Projects

Retirement and Ageing Workers

Retirement transition: a longitudinal P-E fit approach within a “life expectancy” time framework - ARC Discovery Project (2009 - 2012)
Griffin, B., Hesketh, B.

An extensive 5-year longitudinal study of retirement adjustment used an updated Theory of Work Adjustment as a comprehensive theoretical framework for studying the processes involved in the retirement transition period. Self-rated life expectancy formed a framework within which retirement transition decisions were examined. Population level data on over 2000 participants from the large-scale 45 and Up Study cohort were supplemented with in-depth information on actual and subjective adjustment trajectories using innovative graphic ratings and validated psychological scales. Results can inform interventions designed to promote successful ageing in the context of increased life expectancy and evolving economic and social conditions.


A mental model of remaining lifetime: motivating late-career adjustment and productivity - ARC Discovery Project (2014 - 2017)
Griffin, B., Wang, M.

Motivating late-career workers to maintain employability and peak performance while simultaneously planning their transition to retirement has growing significance in the face of global workforce ageing. This longitudinal research seeks to explain late-career motivation using an innovative theoretical framework that captures individuals’ future selves and their subjective life expectancy within a personal mental model of remaining lifetime. Outcomes will promote adjustment during the late-career and retirement transition periods.

Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Ageing

Psychological Treatment of Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease: Pilot Program (2016–2017)
Wuthrich, V.M., & Rapee, R.M.

Up to 50% of patients with Parkinson's disease experience anxiety and depression that reduce quality of life more than is expected from the disease itself, and are often untreated. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective for treating anxiety and depression in older adults without Parkinson's disease; however, trials of CBT in patients with Parkinson's disease are few. This project evaluated in Parkinson's patients, a modified version of our established program for treating anxiety and depression. The feasibility and acceptability of the program, as well as reductions in anxiety and depression, and changes in care giver stress, was evaluated.

Publication: Wuthrich, V.M., & Rapee, R.M. (2019). Telephone delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for treating anxiety and depression in Parkinson’s disease: A Pilot Study. Clinical Gerontologist, 42 (4), 444-453. DOI: 10.1080/07317115.2019.1580811


Reducing Risk Factors for Cognitive Decline Through Psychological Interventions: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial ( -2016)
Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R., Draper, B., Brodaty, H., Low, L., Naismith, S.

Modifiable factors associated with increased risk of cognitive decline include emotional (anxiety, depression), cognitive (low social and mental stimulation), and health factors (smoking, alcohol use, sedentary lifestyle, obesity). Older adults with anxiety and depression may be at heightened risk due to direct and indirect impacts of emotional distress on cognitive decline. Design: Randomised controlled trial. Setting: Community sample attending a University clinic. Participants: 27 participants (female = 20) aged over 65 years (M = 72.56, SD = 6.74) with an anxiety and/or mood disorder. Interventions: Two Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) interventions (face-to-face or low intensity) that targeted emotional, health and cognitive risks for cognitive decline. Measurements: Participants completed diagnostic interviews, self-report measures of anxiety, depression, quality of life and lifestyle factors at baseline, post-treatment and three month follow-up. Results: Both interventions resulted in significant and sustained improvements in depression, anxiety, quality of life, physical and social activity. At post treatment, face-to-face CBT demonstrated significantly greater improvements in emotional symptoms, alcohol use, and memory (exercise approached significance). At three month follow-up, gains were maintained and there were significantly greater increases in mental activity for face-to-face CBT with social activity approaching significance. Conclusions: This study demonstrates the feasibility of CBT interventions to reduce emotional as well as lifestyle risk factors associated with cognitive decline in at-risk older participants. Large studies are needed to evaluate the long-term impact on cognitive decline.

Publication: Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R., Draper, B., Brodaty, H., Low, L., & Naismith, S. (n.d.). Reducing risk factors for cognitive decline through psychological interventions: A pilot randomized controlled trial. International Psychogeriatrics, 1-11. doi:  10.1017/S1041610218001485


Investigation of the effectiveness of group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for comorbid anxiety and depression in older adults (2011-2014)
Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R., Kangas, M., Perini, S.

Co-morbid anxiety and depression in older adults is associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes and poorer response to psychological and pharmacological treatments in older adults. However, there is a paucity of research focused on testing the efficacy of the co-morbid treatment of anxiety and depression in older adults using psychological interventions. Accordingly, the primary objective of the current study was to test the effects of a group cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) program in treating co-morbid anxiety and depression in a sample of older age adults. Method: A total of 133 community-dwelling participants aged ⩾60 years (mean age = 67.35, s.d. = 5.44, male = 59) with both an anxiety disorder and unipolar mood disorder, as assessed on the Anxiety Disorder Interview Schedule (ADIS), were randomly allocated to an 11-week CBT group or discussion group. Participants with Mini-Mental State Examination scores <26 were excluded. Participants were assessed pre-treatment, post-treatment and at 6 months follow-up on the ADIS, a brief measure of well-being, Geriatric Anxiety Inventory and Geriatric Depression Scale. Results: Both conditions resulted in significant improvements over time on all diagnostic, symptom and wellbeing measures. Significant group × time interaction effects emerged at post-treatment only for diagnostic severity of the primary disorder, mean severity of all anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and all disorders, and recovery rates on primary disorder. Conclusion: Group CBT produced faster and sustained improvements in anxiety and depression on diagnostic severity and recovery rates compared to an active control in older adults.

Publication: Wuthrich, V. M., Rapee, R. M., Kangas, M., & Perini, S. (2016). Randomized controlled trial of group cognitive behavioral therapy compared to a discussion group for co-morbid anxiety and depression in older adults. Psychological medicine, 46(4), 785-795. doi: 10.1017/S0033291715002251


A psychosocial group program for the treatment of anxiety and depression in older adults (aged 60 years and older) (2009-2010)
Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R.

Anxiety and depression are commonly comorbid in older adults and are associated with worse physical and mental health outcomes and poorer response to psychological and pharmacological treatments. However, little research has examined the effectiveness of psychological programs to treat comorbid anxiety and depression in older adults. Sixty-two community dwelling adults aged over 60 years with comorbid anxiety and depression were randomly allocated to group cognitive behavioural therapy or a waitlist condition and were assessed immediately following and three months after treatment. After controlling for cognitive ability at pre-treatment, cognitive behaviour therapy resulted in significantly greater reductions, than waitlist, on symptoms of anxiety and depression based on a semi-structured diagnostic interview rated by clinicians unaware of treatment condition. Significant time by treatment interactions were also found for self-report measures of anxiety and depression and these gains were maintained at the three month follow up period. In contrast no significant differences were found between groups on measures of worry and well-being. In conclusion, group cognitive behavioural therapy is efficacious in reducing comorbid anxiety and depression in geriatric populations and gains maintain for at least three months.

Publication: Wuthrich, V. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2013). Randomised controlled trial of group cognitive behavioural therapy for comorbid anxiety and depression in older adults. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 51(12), 779-786. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2013.09.002


Hope and Experiential Avoidance and their associations with well-being in older adults
Ferguson, S.J., Taylor, A.J., McMahon, C.

Positive psychology and third wave cognitive behavioral therapy approaches have seldom been applied to older adults. This study therefore examined whether two concepts drawn from these areas, hope for the future and avoidance in the present, were associated with well-being in a sample of 259 older adults (65–94 years). Hope was measured as a stable trait. Experiential avoidance was measured as avoidance of present internal and external events. Respondents also completed two well-being measures: hedonic (positive and negative affect) and eudeimonic (meaning in life). Path analyses showed that high hope was significantly associated with high positive affect, and high meaning in life; and high experiential avoidance was associated with high negative affect and low meaning in life. This was also true when both (hope and avoidance) were taken into account, along with sociodemographic variables and perceived health. Many of the pathways between hope and well-being, and between experiential avoidance and wellbeing appear to be bidirectional. However the path from hope to positive affect was stronger than that from positive affect to hope. Further research is needed to clarify each of these points. Both hope for the future and lack of avoidance in the present are important for wellbeing in older adulthood and interventions targeting these processes may enhance positive ageing and contribute to a sense of having a meaningful life.

Publication: Ferguson, S. J., Taylor, A. J., & McMahon, C. (2017). Hope for the future and avoidance of the present: Associations with well-being in older adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(5), 1485-1506. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-016-9787-0


Self-compassion: A resource for positive ageing
Ferguson, S.J., Phillips, W.J.

Self-compassion has been associated with psychological health in young and multigenerational samples. This study investigated whether self-compassion may be associated with subjective well-being (positive affect [PA] and negative affect [NA]) and psychological well-being (ego integrity and meaning in life) in older adults. It also assessed the structure of the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS; Neff, 2003a) in older adults. A total of 185 adults aged 65 and older (Mage = 73.42) completed several self-report measures, including the SCS. Results. Path analysis revealed that self-compassion was significantly positively associated with PA, ego integrity, and meaning in life, and negatively associated with NA. Factor analyses indicated that the SCS structure identified among undergraduates was not observed in our older sample. Instead, two factors emerged which provided predictive utility. These results extend research knowledge, inform strategies to enhance well-being in older adults, and indicate that self-compassion may represent a valuable psychological resource for positive aging.

Publication: Phillips, W. J., & Ferguson, S. J. (2013). Self-compassion: A resource for positive aging. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(4), 529-539. DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbs091


Optimism and well-being in older adults
Ferguson, S.J., Goodwin, A.

To investigate how psychosocial resources may improve well-being for olderadults, this study explored the relationship among questionnaire measures of optimism, social support and perceptions of control in predicting subjective well-being (measured with the positive affect subscale of the Affect Balance Scale) (Bradburn, 1969) and psychological well-being (measured with the purpose in life scale of the Ryff Psychological Well-being scales) (Ryff, Lee, Essex, & Schmutte, 1994) among older adults. The potential mediating roles of perceived social support and perception of control were also explored. Participants were 225 adults aged from 65 to 94 years. Optimism was found to be a predictor of both subjective and psychological well-being, and perceived social support was found to mediate the relationship between optimism and subjective well-being, but not psychological well-being. In contrast, perception of control was found to mediate the relationship between optimism and psychological well-being, but not subjective wellbeing. Longitudinal research is needed to confirm these pathways.

Publication: Ferguson, S. J., & Goodwin, A. D. (2010). Optimism and well-being in older adults: The mediating role of social support and perceived control. The International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 71(1), 43-68. DOI: 10.2190/AG.71.1.c


Learning cognitive restructuring in later life: The role of cognitive flexibility on cognitive restructuring skill acquisition in older adults with anxiety and depression.
Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V., Rapee, R.

Although there is consistent evidence supporting the efficacy of cognitive behaviour therapy for late-life anxiety and depression, there are still some suggestions that the use of cognitive restructuring should be modified or minimized with older adults due to declines in flexible and abstract thinking. There is some evidence that poorer executive functioning negatively impacts on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) efficacy, although it is unclear what specific executive functioning skills are important and what treatment components are affected. Older adults experience some age-related decline in cognitive flexibility skills, including the ability to consider multiple ideas, flexibly switch cognitive sets and inhibit habitual responding; skills which intuitively seem important for the successful use of cognitive restructuring. This project aimed to examine the role of cognitive flexibility on cognitive restructuring skill acquisition in older adults through four papers. The first study examined the role of cognitive flexibility on cognitive restructuring skill acquisition in a normal community-dwelling sample of older adults. The second study extended these findings, assessing cognitive restructuring skills in older adults with and without anxiety and depression, and the influence of cognitive flexibility on this relationship. The third study examined the measurement of cognitive flexibility, comparing neuropsychological assessment and self-report measures in older adults. The final study investigated the role of pre-treatment cognitive flexibility as a predictor of cognitive restructuring skill acquisition at the end of a group CBT intervention for late-life anxiety and depression, and as a predictor of treatment outcome.

Publications:

Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2015). The impact of late-life anxiety and depression on cognitive flexibility and cognitive restructuring skill acquisition. Depression and Anxiety, 10(32) 754-762. DOI: 10.1002/da.22375.

Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2014). Reliability and validity of two self-report measures of cognitive flexibility. Psychological Assessment, 26(4), 1381-1387. DOI: 10.1037/a0038009.

Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2014). The influence of cognitive flexibility on treatment outcome and cognitive restructuring skill acquisition during cognitive behavioural treatment for anxiety and depression in older adults: Results of a pilot study. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 57, 55-64. DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2014.04.005

Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2013). The role of cognitive flexibility in cognitive restructuring skill acquisition among older adults. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 27(6), 576-584. DOI: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.10.004


Screening for alcohol and substance use for older people in geriatric hospital and community health settings
Draper, B., Ridley, N., Johnco, C., Withall, A., Sim, W., Freeman, M., Contini, E., Lintzeris, N.

We aimed to determine the rates of alcohol and substance use in geriatric hospital and community health settings, and to evaluate the performance of screening instruments. A two-phase cross-sectional study was undertaken in geriatric and aged care psychiatry wards and associated community services of a teaching hospital. Participants were screened with the Brief Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C) and the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) for other substances; Geriatric Depression Scale-15 for mood; the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale; and the Subjective Quality of Life scale. Medical conditions were established. Screen positives for risky substance use continued with the full AUDIT, full ASSIST, CAGE, Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination-Revised, and the Functional Activities Questionnaire. Medical records were reviewed after three months to ascertain recognition and management of substance use. Of 210 participants aged 60+ (mean age 81.9, 63.3% female) without dementia or delirium and Mini Mental State Examination score ≥24, 41 (19.5%) were screen positive - 36 (17.1%) for alcohol, seven for non-medical benzodiazepine use (3.3%) (four alcohol and benzodiazepine) and two for non-medical opioid use (0.95%). Screen positives differed from screen negatives on few demographic or health measures. On the ASSIST, 26 (12.4%) were rated as medium/high risk. The AUDIT-C with cut-point of ≥5 was the optimal measure for detecting risky alcohol use. Many patients in geriatric health services have risky alcohol or substance use, but few clinical features distinguish them from other patients. Routine screening of alcohol and substance use is recommended.

Publications: Draper, B., Ridley, N., Johnco, C., Withall, A., Sim, W., Freeman, M. Contini, E. & Lintzeris, N. (2015). Screening for alcohol and substance use for older people in geriatric hospital and community health settings. International Psychogeriatrics, 27(1), 157-166. DOI: 10.1017/S1041610214002014


Differences in anxiety and depression symptoms: comparison between older and younger clinical samples
Wuthrich, V., Johnco, C., Wetherell, J.

Anxiety and depression symptoms change over the lifespan and older adults use different terms to describe their mental health, contributing to under identification of anxiety and depression in older adults. To date, research has not examined these differences in younger and older samples with comorbid anxiety and depression.One hundred and seven treatment-seeking participants (47 older, 60% female, and 60 younger, 50% female) with anxiety and mood disorders completed the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule and a symptom checklist to examine differences in symptom severity, symptom profiles and terms used to describe anxiety and mood. The findings indicated several key differences between the presentation and description of anxiety and depression in younger and older adults. Older adults with Social Phobia reported fearing a narrower range of social situations and less distress and interference. Older adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) reported less worry about interpersonal relationships and work/school than younger adults, however, there were no differences between age groups for behavioral symptoms endorsed. Further older adults reported phobia of lifts/small spaces more frequently than younger adults. Depressed older depressed adults also reported more anhedonia compared to younger adults, but no differences in terms of reported sadness were found. Finally, older and younger adults differed in their descriptions of symptoms with older adults describing anxiety as feeling stressed and tense, while younger adults described anxiety as feeling anxious, worried or nervous. Clinicians need to assess symptoms broadly to avoid missing the presence of anxiety and mood disorders especially in older adults.

Publication: Wuthrich, V. M., Johnco, C., & Wetherell, J. L. (2015). Differences in anxiety and depression symptoms between older and younger clinical samples. International Psychogeriatrics, 27(9), 1523-1532. DOI: 10.1017/S1041610215000526


Psychometric properties of the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI) and its short-form (GAI-SF) in a clinical and non-clinical sample of older adults.
Johnco, C., Knight, A., Tadic, D., Wuthrich, V.

The Geriatric Anxiety Inventory is a 20-item geriatric-specific measure of anxiety severity. While studies suggest good internal consistency and convergent validity, divergent validity from measures of depression are weak. Clinical cutoffs have been developed that vary across studies due to the small clinical samples used. A six-item short form (GAI-SF) has been developed, and while this scale is promising, the research assessing the psychometrics of this scale is limited. This study examined the psychometric properties of GAI and GAI-SF in a large sample of 197 clinical geriatric participants with a comorbid anxiety and unipolar mood disorder, and a non-clinical control sample (N = 59). The internal consistency and convergent validity with other measures of anxiety was adequate for GAI and GAI-SF. Divergent validity from depressive symptoms was good in the clinical sample but weak in the total and non-clinical samples. Divergent validity from cognitive functioning was good in all samples. The one-factor structure was replicated for both measures. Receiver Operating Characteristic analyses indicated that the GAI is more accurate at identifying clinical status than the GAI-SF, although the sensitivity and specificity for the recommended cutoffs was adequate for both measures.Both GAI and GAI-SF show good psychometric properties for identifying geriatric anxiety. The GAI-SF may be a useful alternative screening measure for identifying anxiety in older adults.

Publication: Johnco, C., Knight, A., Tadic, D., & Wuthrich, V. M. (2015). Psychometric properties of the Geriatric Anxiety Inventory (GAI) and its short-form (GAI-SF) in a clinical and non-clinical sample of older adults. International Psychogeriatrics, 27(Special Issue 07), 1089-1097. DOI: 10.1017/S1041610214001586


Comparison of the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) and abbreviated version (PSWQ-A) in a clinical and non-clinical population of older adults
Wuthrich, V., Johnco, C., Knight, A.

The Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) is a widely used measure of worry severity. An 8-itemabbreviated version (PSWQ-A) has been developed as a brief screening measure, although there are limited studies assessing the psychometric properties of this measure in a large geriatric population. The aim of this study was to assess the utility of the PSWQ-A compared to the full PSWQ, to identify pathological worry in an older adult sample (N = 108) of clinically anxious and depressed older adults, compared to a non-clinical sample (N = 53). The PSWQ and PSWQ-A were found to have similarly adequate reliability and validity. The factor structure of the PSWQ-A was replicated, but not for the PSWQ. Both measures accurately distinguished between clinical and non-clinical status with similar sensitivity and specificity. These findings indicate the PSWQ-A is a useful measure for screening or epidemiological studies assessing worry in geriatric populations.

Publication: Wuthrich, V. M., Johnco, C., & Knight, A. (2014). Comparison of the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) and abbreviated version (PSWQ-A) in a clinical and non-clinical population of older adults. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28(7), 657-663. DOI: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.07.005


The role of cognitive resources on emotional memory
Neelakandan, A., Johnco, C., Wuthrich, V.

Older adults show greater psychological wellbeing and lower rates of psychopathology compared to younger adults. Studies of attention and memory show that older adults display an information processing bias for positive compared to negative information, referred to as the ‘positivity effect’, while younger adults tend to display a negativity bias. The positivity effect is attributed to an increased salience of emotional goals in later life that prioritise emotional wellbeing and satisfaction. Regulating emotion requires cognitive control and resources. There is evidence that decreasing cognitive resources during memory encoding completely reverses the positive effect. However, it is unclear whether depleting cognitive resources impacts biased information processing only during memory encoding, or whether depleting cognitive resources impacts biased information processing only during memory encoding, or whether this also impacts memory retrieval for emotional information. This study aimed to examine whether the positivity effect is eliminated if cognitive resources are depleted during memory retrieval, or whether this effect is specific to the encoding of emotional information. Fifty-two older and fourty-seven younger adults were randomly allocated to one of three conditions: full-attention group, a divided-attention during encoding group (where participants engaged in a concurrent sound discrimination task), or a divided attention during retrieval group. Participants viewed a series of emotional images (positive, neutral and negative in valence) and were given an unexpected verbal recall and recognition memory task. We found that participants’ emotional memories in the verbal recall task differed between age groups and experimental condition. Through comparing the role of cognitive resources at both encoding and retrieval phases of memory, our findings provide valuable insight on the relative importance of the two processes, and how they may act as emotion regulation strategies to produce positive emotional outcomes in old age.

Scaffolding Memory and Ageing

Is it better to remember with others or to remember alone, especially as we age? (2013-2015)
Barnier, A., Harris, C., Savage, G., Rajaram, S., Balota, D.

Memory research usually focuses on individuals remembering alone, but in everyday life we more typically remember in the company of others. This project investigated when and how remembering with a long-term partner minimises memory loss. We extended a major memory paradigm to evaluate the positive and negative consequences of “collaborative remembering”. Moving beyond conventional memory research, we compared pairs of older and younger adults, married or strangers, with or without memory problems, who recalled personally meaningful material and memories either together or alone. The outcomes of the project enhanced our understanding of when, how and why remembering with a partner protects and promotes “healthy” memory, especially as we age.


What kinds of support systems help people to remember in daily life, especially as their memories start to fail? (2013-2014)
Harris, C., Barnier, A., Savage, G., Sutton, J.

This project investigated the systems of memory support that older adults use in their daily lives—systems that encompass internal supports (like mnemonics) and external supports, both social (relying on other people) and technological (objects like diaries, calendars, and iPhones). Specifically, we were interested in the interaction between these different kinds of memory support, and the characteristics of an effective memory compensation system. Previous research has tended to focus on different memory supports in isolation, for instance, studying the way that people with dementia use diaries. But in our prior research with healthy older couples, we found early evidence that memory compensation involves complex, dynamic systems. This project used established experimental methods to test the memory performance of older adults who were healthy or who were at risk of dementia, and tested their memory performance when they were alone and when they were remembering together with their spouse. We also used more open-ended interview methods to ask couples about their coordinated memory support systems.

We aimed to determine the characteristics of support systems that predict, compensate for, or reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and its effects on memory. We identified beneficial strategies and techniques that spouses use to help each other remember, especially as their memories start to fail. Ultimately, we aim to develop a generalisable set of guidelines that people at risk of dementia and their carers and family members can adopt to promote memory performance in daily life.


Memory scaffolding across the lifespan: Does remembering together across generations protect memory? (2012-2014)
Van Bergen, P., Barnier, A., McIlwain, D., Savage, G.

Our memories of the past underpin our wellbeing. We share memories socially and use them to establish a sense of self. For older adults, therefore, memory decline is a distressing disruption. This project tested whether remembering with a family member protects older adults’ memory. We borrowed from developmental research, which shows how parents scaffold young children’s developing memory, to look at memory scaffolding (1) between older parents and their now-adult children, (2) across 3 generations of the same families, and (3) in older adults already suffering cognitive decline. This project offered a unique lifespan approach to “memory scaffolding” to inform and ultimately reduce the risk of memory decline in normal ageing and dementia.


When music compensates language: A case study of severe aphasia in dementia and the use of music by a spousal caregiver
Baird, A., Thompson, W.F.

BACKGROUND: There is accumulating evidence of the preservation of music skills in people with Alzheimer’s dementia (AD), including spared memory for familiar music and the ability to produce music by singing or playing an instrument. Music can also be used to alleviate symptoms of dementia, leading to reduced agitation, improved positive mood, memory, and expressive language functions. AIMS: We evaluated the rate of decline of expressive language and music skills in TC, a 77 year old woman with aphasia in the context of severe AD, and her husband’s use of music in caregiving. Neither TC nor her husband had any formal music training. We also explored whether the preservation of music skills had implications for treating a symptom of her dementia, specifically her misidentification delusion. METHODS & PROCEDURES: A retrospective comparison of the progressive decline in TC’s expressive music and language skills was obtained through interviews with her husband. He also completed a purposefully developed questionnaire regarding his use of music during caregiving. Assessment of TC’s language skills was attempted using the Sydney Language Battery, and her music engagement skills were evaluated with the Music Engagement Questionnaire (MusEQ, informant version). Her behaviour and verbal communication was observed during four different conditions, presented by her husband; (1) reading a newspaper article, (2) reading familiar song lyrics, (3) singing familiar song lyrics, and (4) listening to the original version of the familiar song. OUTCOMES & RESULTS: TC exhibited a gradual deterioration of her expressive language abilities, whereas her music skills (singing and music engagement), were relatively preserved. Her overall score on the MusEQ was in keeping with age matched healthy controls (50–55 percentile) and she had a high average (80–85 percentile) score on the “emotion” subscale. The impact of preserved music engagement was powerfully demonstrated when TC developed a transient misidentification delusion and believed that her husband was an intruder. Her delusion was only resolved after her husband repeatedly sang a significant song that they had shared as a couple for close to 60 years. By singing this special song (“Unchained Melody”), TC eventually “came back” and recognised him. During behavioural observations under different language and music conditions, TC’s verbal communication did not appear to change. CONCLUSIONS: This case study illustrates that when language skills deteriorate in AD, music functions may persist, providing a vital tool in coping with the symptoms of severe dementia.

Publication: Baird, A., & Thompson, W.F. (2018). When music compensates language: A case study of severe aphasia in dementia and the use of music by a spousal caregiver. Aphasiology. DOI: 10.1080/02687038.2018.1471657


The impact of music on the self in dementia
Baird, A., Thompson, W.F.

In this review, we consider how the onset and progression of dementia can disrupt one’s sense of self, and propose that music is an ideal tool for alleviating this distressing symptom. Various aspects of the self can be impaired in people with dementia, depending on how the self is defined. There are anecdotal reports that music can ‘bring people back to themselves’ in the face of dementia, but there have been scarce empirical investigations of this topic. Motivated by a consideration of the existing literature, we outline a novel theoretical framework that accounts for the relationship between music and the self in people with dementia. We propose that music has a number of ‘design features’ that make it uniquely equipped to engage multiple aspects of the self. We suggest that each design feature interacts with different aspects of the self to varying degrees, promoting overall wellbeing. We discuss how existing research on music and dementia fits within this framework, and describe two case studies in which music was an ideal stimulus for reaffirming their sense of self. Our framework may be useful for the diagnosis and treatment of impairments of self in people with dementia, and highlights how music, given its ability to engage all aspects of the self simultaneously, can result in an overall enhanced sense of self.

Publication: Baird, A., & Thompson, W.F. (2018). The impact of music on the self in dementia. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 61, 827-841. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-170737


A non-musician with severe Alzheimer’s Dementia learns a new song
Baird, A., Umbach, H., Thompson, W.F.

The hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) is impaired memory, but memory for familiar music can be preserved. We explored whether a non-musician with severe AD could learn a new song. A 91 year old woman (NC) with severe AD was taught an unfamiliar song. We assessed her delayed song recall (24 hours and 2 weeks), music cognition, two word recall (presented within a familiar song lyric, a famous proverb, or as a word stem completion task), and lyrics and proverb completion. NC’s music cognition (pitch and rhythm perception, recognition of familiar music, completion of lyrics) was relatively preserved. She recalled 0/2 words presented in song lyrics or proverbs, but 2/2 word stems, suggesting intact implicit memory function. She could sing along to the newly learnt song on immediate and delayed recall (24 hours and 2 weeks later), and with intermittent prompting could sing it alone. This is the first detailed study of preserved ability to learn a new song in a non-musician with severe AD, and contributes to observations of relatively preserved musical abilities in people with dementia.

Publication: Baird, A., Umbach, H., & Thompson. W.F. (2017). A non-musician with severe Alzheimer’s Dementia learns a new song. Neurocase. 23 (1), 36-40. DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2017.1287278

Cognition and Ageing

Eye movement control: Coordinating perception, cognition, and action in reading - National Institute of Health (NIH, USA)
Reichle, E.D., Warren, T.

The project used eye movements and computer simulations to examine how vision, cognition, and eye-movement control become coordinated with improvements in reading skill.

Publication: Reichle, E. D. & Laurent, P. A.  (2006).  Using reinforcement learning to understand the emergence of  “intelligent” eye-movement behavior during reading.  Psychological Review, 113, 390-408. DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.113.2.390


Lapses in meta-cognition during reading: Understanding comprehension failure - Institute of Education Science (IES, USA) 
Reichle, E.D., Schooler, J.W.

This project used eye movements and other behavioural measures to examine how lapses of attention (mind-wandering) affects comprehension during reading.

Publication: Reichle, E. D., Reineberg, A. E., & Schooler, J. W.  (2010).  Eye movements during mindless reading.  Psychological Science, 21, 1300-1310. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610378686


Learning words: Antecedents and consequences of word knowledge - Institute of Education Sciences (IES, USA)
Perfetti, C.A., Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Reichle, E.D.

The project used eye movements and other behavioural measures to examined variables that affect the learning of new vocabulary during reading.

Publication: Reichle, E. D. & Perfetti, C. A.  (2003). Morphology in word identification: A word experience model that accounts for morpheme frequency effects.  Scientific Studies of Reading, 7, 219-237. DOI: 10.1207/S1532799XSSR0703_2

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