Spring 2020

What '80s kids can tell us about Alzheimer's


Much of what we know about Alzheimer’s disease comes from observing people from midlife onward. 

A problem with this, says John Robert Warren, a University of Minnesota sociology professor and director of the Minnesota Population Center, is that these studies include almost no information about people’s early lives. 

To understand the impact of early life circumstances on cognition and dementia decades later, Warren and colleagues are looking to the High School and Beyond (HS&B) cohort—25,000 people who have been part of the study since they were high school students in 1980 and who are now nearing 60.

Researchers periodically interview them, test cognitive functioning, and collect saliva and blood samples.

Warren, who received the donor-funded Scholar of the College Award in 2019 from the College of Liberal Arts, knows of no other study of this kind. 

“HS&B offers a wealth of information about early life,” he says. “The goal is to understand how education and early life conditions intersect with people’s biology to shape who gets Alzheimer’s disease.”