The University of Texas at Dallas School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Denise C. Park

Professor
Director of Research, Center for Vital Longevity
Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences
UT Regents’ Research Scholar

Research Interests

Cognitive neuroscience of aging; preclinical Alzheimer’s disease; effect of an engaged lifestyle on cognition; cultural neuroscience

Curriculum Vitae

Contact

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 972-883-3255
Office: VP_8.09
Campus Mail Code: VP 10
Website: Park Aging Mind Laboratory

Biography

Denise C. Park, Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, began studying cognitive her freshman year in college, and since then, she has never stopped. As a young scientist, Dr. Park realized that almost nothing was known about how the mind changes with age, and recognized that it was likely to become a very important topic as the baby boomers reached late adulthood. Hence, Dr. Park focused her entire career on the study of the aging mind and became an international leader in the study of cognition and aging. She joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2008 and previously held tenured professorships in the Department of Psychology at the University of Georgia, the University of Michigan, and the University of Illinois. She is the Founding Director of the Center for Vital Longevity, an outstanding research center at UT Dallas, where she is presently Director of Research.

In her early work, Dr. Park focused on understanding how to design information so that older adults could remember it nearly as well as young adults. She translated this laboratory work into field studies where she uncovered what components of cognition cause motivated adults to make mistakes in taking their medications. Later, at the University of Michigan, she created behavioral models of cognitive aging that were the springboard for a new program of research that utilized powerful, new neuroimaging tools. Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), her work has yielded an understanding of the resilience of the aging brain which builds new neural pathways or scaffolds to maintain cognitive behavior with age. At the same time, she pioneered groundbreaking cross-cultural studies on how cultural values can sculpt subtle differenced in brain structure and function in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Duke University Medical School established in Singapore.

Upon arriving in Dallas in 2008, Dr. Park developed the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, which has tracked brain/behavior changes in adults of all ages for the past 12 years. This landmark study is revealing how cognitively-normal adults transition from cognitive health to cognitive frailty as they get older, and is leading to the identification of a neural footprint during middle age that can be used to predict future cognitive health or pathology in the future.

Dr. Park also developed novel adult learning environments to assess whether providing older adults with mentally challenging new activities can enhance cognitive vitality and delay brain aging.

Dr. Park is a fellow of multiple academic societies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has held a number of national offices in professional societies and was elected to be chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association (APA), to be president of the APA Division of Adult Development and Aging, and to serve on the Board of Directors of the Association for Psychological Sciences. The APA Division of Adult Development and Aging has awarded her the Distinguished Research Contributions Award and the Distinguished Mentor Award in the Psychology of Aging. Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institute on Aging for over 40 years and includes a prestigious 10-year NIH MERIT award. Dr. Park takes great pride in the accomplishments of the many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows she has mentored, many of whom are prominent scientists that hold leadership positions at major universities across the world.

Recent and Selected Representative Publications

ARTICLES IN PEER-REFEREED JOURNALS

Park, Denise, T.A. Polk, P.R. Park, M. Minear, A. Savage, and M.R. Smith. 2004. “Aging reduces neural specialization in ventral visual cortex.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 101: 13091-13095.

Park, Denise, and P. Reuter-Lorenz. 2009. “The adaptive brain: Aging and neurocognitive scaffolding.” Annual Review of Psychology 60: 173-196.

Farrell, M. E., X. Chen, M.M. Rundle, M.Y. Chan, G. Wig, and Denise Park. 2018. “Regional amyloid accumulation and cognitive decline in initially amyloid-negative adults.” Neurology 91 (19): e1809-e1821.

Burke, S.N., E.C. Mormino, E.J. Rogalski, C.H. Kawas, R.J. Willis, Denise Park. 2019. “What are the later life contribuitions to reserve, resilience, and compensation?” Neurobiology of Aging 83: 140-144.

Park, Denise. 2019. “Cognitive ability in old age is predetermined by age 20.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116 (6): 1832-1833.

Roe J.M., Vidal-Piñeiro D., Sørensen Ø., Brandmaier M., Düzel S., Gonzalez H.A., Kievit R.A., Knights, E., Kuhn S., Lindenberger U., Mowinckel A. M., Nyberg L., Park D.C., Pudas S., Rundle M.M.,Walhovd K.B., Fjell A.M., Westerhausen R. (2020). Asymmetric thinning of the cerebral cortex across the adult lifespan is accelerated in Alzheimer’s Disease. Nature Communications 12, 721 (2021).

View more of Denise Park’s publications