In 1960, students at Reed High School in Dumas became part of a landmark study, forming a snapshot of a generation across the U.S.
They joined more than 400,000 students at public and private high schools across the country, including 2,818 students from 17 schools in Arkansas.
It was the most comprehensive study of American high school students ever conducted and included students from all walks of life and every racial and ethnic group. Dubbed Project Talent, the study yielded insights about teens but the long-term goal was to track the students into retirement.
Over two full days in the spring of 1960, Project Talent assessed the aptitudes and abilities, hopes and expectations of high school students from 1,353 schools across the country. The goal was to identify the unique strengths and interests of America’s young people and to ensure they were being guided into careers that would make the best use of their talents. Follow-up studies collected information on occupations, family formation, education, and health.
Now, Project Talent has launched a 58-year follow-up of its participants, focusing on unraveling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease. The new follow-up study will have a special focus on memory and cognitive health in an effort to develop evidence-based policies to combat the looming Alzheimer’s crisis. The National Institute on Aging reports that by 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease will more than triple, reaching 16 million. The cost of caring for sufferers will exceed $1 trillion annually.
The study was originally developed by the American Institutes for Research and funded by the United States Office of Education. The new Alzheimer’s study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“The Project Talent generation has contributed to important research in the past five decades,” said Susan Laphan, director of Project Talent. “Now, they have the opportunity to help us address some of the most pressing public health concerns currently facing our country.”
In 1960, the study was remarkable for the diversity of its participants, who represented every facet of American life. Researchers have designed the new study to be just as diverse. Members of Reed High School classes of 1960-1963 who are asked to participate in the 2018 study are strongly encouraged complete the survey and share their experiences with researchers.
The new study is seeking to include the experiences of participants who identified in 1960 as belonging to a racial or ethnic minority. Researchers seek to understand the health disparities that exist between minority and non-minority groups and to examine the long-term effects of attending racially segregated versus integrated schools, according to Lapham.
“These findings will be important in informing current health policy,” she said. “Segregation in schools has been increasing in recent years but we know little about the potential long-term impact on health in later life.”
About the American Institutes for Research
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.