Lecture to look at cognitive enhancement among older adults

January 31, 2013

 UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Gil Watz Memorial Lecture, co-sponsored by the Center for Language Acquisition and the Penn State University Libraries, will feature Merrill Swain, professor emerita in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), from 2:30 to 4 p.m. April 8, in Foster Auditorium.

In her talk, "Affective and Cognitive Enhancement among Older Adults: The Role of Languaging," Swain will discuss how global rates of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) converge in the 14 to 18 percent range for persons 70 years and older. One possible source of MCI among older adults may lie in the lack of opportunities they have to use language. If opportunities are limited, then cognitive loss rather than cognitive maintenance or development might occur. In this talk, Swain will discuss three exploratory case studies of residents with MCI who were living in a long-term care facility and who rarely engaged in conversations with staff, other residents or visitors. Each of these residents engaged in “languaging” activities with a researcher during a two- to three-month period. Languaging is the use of language to mediate higher mental cognitive and affective processes. Swain will discuss the theoretical foundations of the study and the results. The theoretical basis draws on Lev Vygotsky’s work which proposed language as one of the most important mediating tools that human beings have at their disposal for the development and use of higher mental processes. Vygotsky also argued that cognition and emotion are inextricably intertwined. Based on these ideas, Swain and her colleagues' research explored the cognitive/affective consequences of languaging for three participating residents.

Swain has taught and conducted research at OISE/UT for 40 years. Her interests include bilingual education (particularly French immersion education) and second-language learning, teaching and testing. Her present research focuses on the role of collaborative dialogue and “languaging” in second-language learning within a Vygotskyan sociocultural theory of mind framework.

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Last Updated January 09, 2015