When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
While research on patterns of cognitive decrements in later life has focused on biological processes, psychosocial processes, such as negative aging stereotypes (NAS), an individual’s learned beliefs about the characteristics or attributes of older adults as a group, and self-perception of aging (SPA), the cognitive evaluation of oneself relative to aging, have also been associated with poorer cognitive performance, decreased well-being, and disengagement from healthy behaviours. For example, it is suggested that NAS adversely impacts verbal memory performance in older adults, although little is known about its potential impact on other cognitive domains. Furthermore, usual methodologies do not align with clinical procedures, creating a gap between research and clinical settings. Additionally, the literature supports satisfaction with aging as a central aspect of subjective well-being in older age but remains understudied despite evidence of internalized ageism among older adults. Importantly, evidence concerning ways to improve NAS and SPA in older adults is lacking. This is problematic, given that psychological processes may be particularly amenable to interventions.
The first manuscript of this thesis explores the impact of NAS and SPA on older adults’ cognitive performance. More specifically, we measured explicit and implicit NAS and SPA in older adults. We assessed their verbal and visuospatial memory, working memory and processing speed using a clinical framework. Results showed that higher explicit NAS negatively correlated with verbal and visuospatial memory and processing speed. Explicit NAS predicted processing speed and visuospatial memory, while implicit NAS predicted verbal memory.
The second manuscript investigated the effect of aerobic, gross motor abilities, or cognitive training on changing NAS and SPA. Results suggested that a 3-month regimen of either training type led to improvements in SPA independently of better fitness and cognition. On the other hand, NAS remained stable.
Despite best clinical practice, older adults come into the assessment room with beliefs that may adversely impact their cognitive performance beyond verbal memory. However, SPA can be improved through various types of training, which could reach a broader range of older adults with multiple interests and initial abilities.