Our lab conducts sex and gender research in the cognitive neuroscience of memory, aging and dementia prevention. The goals of our research program are to identify the biological, environmental, and societal factors that support the maintenance of normative memory and brain function in women and men from diverse backgrounds across the adult lifespan, and determine what factors lead to more women than men developing late onset sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). To address these goals, we use behavioral experimentation in combination with multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), demographic, neuropsychological, psychosocial, physiological, hormonal, and genetic measurements in young, middle-aged and older adults, with and without known risk factors for AD (i.e., having a family history of AD (+FH) or an apolipoprotein E e4 allele (+APOEe4)), and apply multivariate and machine learning statistical methods to these data to:
- Develop more representative and generalizable large-scale neural network models of memory and brain aging in women and men from diverse sociocultural and ethnic backgrounds
- Identify biological, demographic, psychosocial, and systemic factors that support or hinder the health and resilience of these memory and cognition-related brain networks across the adult lifespan, with a focus on midlife
- Advance current theories of cognitive reserve, brain resilience and compensation in healthy and pathological neurocognitive aging that consider sex, gender, and the diversity of our aging population.
The long-term goal of our research program is to support the creation of new therapeutic approaches and policies that help optimize brain health and memory function in women and men, as early as midlife; and thus, prevent or delay the onset of age- and AD-related memory decline and promote a higher quality of life for more older adults.
Ongoing Research Projects
Sex and gender differences in the neurocognitive trajectories of normative and pathological aging. This line of research is focused on understanding how environmental, lifestyle and sociocultural factors interact with neurobiological correlates of memory and cognition in healthy and pathological aging in women and men. We use multimodal MRI methods to examine how age-related differences in brain structure and function impact memory and cognition. We are especially interested in understanding why some adults show relative maintenance of episodic memory function with increasing age, while others do not. The goal of this line of research is to gain deeper insight into the neural basis of normative and pathological neurocognitive aging, and how individual differences in aging trajectories relate to the concepts of cognitive reserve, brain maintenance, resistance, resilience and compensation.
The effect of menopause and lifestyle factors on memory and brain function at midlife. Midlife is a critical time in adult development when the day-to-day stress related to achieving work/life balance converges with the initial signs of neuro-cognitive aging. In women, these challenges are exacerbated by the hormonal changes associated with menopausal transition at midlife. This research project explores how stress levels, lifestyle choices, and hormones impact cognition and brain function in middle aged adults. We are specifically interested in how menopausal transition impacts neural network activity and connectivity in women and how this relates to episodic memory and executive functioning.
Understanding how risk factors for AD affect the structural and functional neural networks of episodic memory in pre-clinical adults. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia in our senior population. Episodic memory impairment is a consistent, pronounced deficit in pre-clinical stages of late-onset AD. Individuals with risk factors for AD exhibit altered brain function several decades prior to the onset of AD-related symptoms. In our lab we are interested in examining if adults with genetic risk for AD exhibit structural and functional alterations within the episodic memory network compared to controls, and if these differences interact with biological sex, menopausal transition, stress, and lifestyle variables.
The cognitive neuroscience of episodic memory. This line of research explores how young adults encode and retrieve contextual details about past experiences (spatial and temporal context memory). In collaboration with our colleagues at McGill University, University of Toronto and University of Calgary we are interested in examining the link between perception, attention and memory. We aim to understand how regional activation and network connectivity within ventral visual, medial temporal, and fronto-parietal cortices influence these abilities and how individual differences in brain structure relate to differences in brain activity and connectivity. To this aim we apply multivariate activation, connectivity and brain signal variability image analyses, and also conduct mediation and conditional mediation analyses.