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Family, Consumer, and Human Development


Maria C. Norton

Ph.D., Professor

Email: maria.norton@usu.edu
Location: FL 111B / SER 129
Office Phone: 797.0613 /797.2491


Ph.D. (2001) - Utah State University, Psychology
M.S. (1982) - Utah State University, Applied Statistics
B.S. (1980) - University of California, Davis, Statistics


I have taught the following courses:

FCHD 3130:   Undergraduate Research Methods
FCHD 3540:   Adult Development and Aging
FCHD 4240:   Social and Family Gerontology
FCHD 6030:   Graduate Research Methods
FCHD 6900    Graduate Statistics (equivalent to EDUC 6600)
FCHD 7900      Advanced Statistics: Analyzing Dyadic and Longitudinal Data

Research Interests

Why Study Healthy Aging?
Significant population aging is predicted over the next few decades in the U.S. which will affect not only individuals but also families, communities and society. Such a dramatic shift in the age composition of our nation demands solution to urgent public health and human development issues affecting quality of life in later years,looking for factors whose effects may begin decades before negative outcomes are realized. Researchers are actively searching for the answer to questions such as why some individuals survive well into the 8th-10th decades of life with excellent cognitive and emotional health while others seem more vulnerable. My research program focuses on geriatric mental health and the psychosocial factors that affect risk for depression and dementia in late-life, including lifestyle choices, stressful life events, social support networks, personality, religiosity, and how these factors might alter genetic influences.

My Research Program. 
I am leading as principal investigator (PI) or involved as co-investigator (Co-I) on several projects with over $20 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Vice President for Research (USU). In one multidisciplinary research project, I currently lead a team of 10 faculty and 50 student researchers.  Within the FCHD department, I currently lead a team of 4 graduate student researchers, with a weekly team meeting to discuss the various student-led manuscripts in preparation using these data.  My research projects are summarized below, with others under development.

These studies, with combined funding over $20million, have generated a wealth of data suitable for investigations in many areas of human development for many years to come. Many topics have been completed as MS theses and doctoral dissertations at USU, with a great number of additional topics still available to future students.  There are grant proposals currently under development that will build upon these studies, with opportunities for students to assist in their preparation. Call, stop by, or email me! I would be pleased to visit with students wanting more information about any of these research opportunities.

Gray Matters: Lifestyles to Lower Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Health Education Randomized Trial (PI; 2014). We are conducting a randomized controlled trial that is developing and testing a multidisciplinary lifestyle behavioral intervention with middle-aged adults towards the goal of lowering their risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Faculty and students in the departments of FCHD, Psychology, HPER and NDFS are involved, as are biomedical engineers at the University of Ulster (Northern Ireland) who have developed a custom smartphone app for this study that teaches users about ways to lower AD risk, and serves as a user-friendly data entry tool as well. [link to photo]

Technology Adoption and Prediction Tool for Everyday Technologies (Co-I; 2012-2015). With colleagues at the University of Ulster (Northern Ireland), we are conducting a clinical trial designed to test feasibility of use of technical devices that provide reminders for daily activities to older adults with cognitive impairment.

Subjective Stress in Personal Journals as Predictor of Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: The Journal Pilot Study (PI; 2010-2015).  We are collecting personal journals and conducting computerized linguistic analysis to explore how expressive writing word use may offer clues to dementia risk decades before onset, which may inform future stress management interventions.  

Early-Life Conditions, Survival and Health Study (Co-I and PI at USU; 2011-2016).  In this University of Utah project, we are using a wide array of objective medical, Census, military, vital statistics and other records to characterize adverse conditions in early life and examine them as predictors of longevity and healthy aging.

Lifespan Stressors and Alzheimer’s Disease (PI; 2008-2013).   With colleagues at the Duke University and the University of Utah, we are examining psychosocial stressors across the entire lifespan (e.g. family member deaths, poverty, divorce, teen or unwed pregnancy, widowhood, premature offspring birth) and their association with late-life cognitive health, and the moderating effects of depression and genes.  

Dementia Progression Study
(Co-I; 2002-2013).  With colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University, we are examining the interrelationships between the caregiving environment and the clinical course of dementia, exploring such factors as relationship closeness, caregiver coping strategies, engagement of the care receiver in cognitive activities, etc. 

Cache County Study on Memory Health and Aging (Co-I and PI at USU; 1994-2011).   This Duke University project is the “parent study” of several ancillary studies; it is a large-scale NIH epidemiological study of dementia, examining lifestyle and genetic factors that affect risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias.

Selected Publications

Norton MC, Fauth E, Clark CJ*, Hatch DJ*, Greene D*, Pfister R, Tschanz JT, Smith KR.  Family member deaths in childhood and adulthood independently predict Alzheimer’s Disease risk. The Cache County Study. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.  In review.

Hatch, DJ*, Schwartz S*, Norton MC. Depression Moderates Association between Widowhood and Alzheimer’s Disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. In press.

Tschanz, J.T., Norton, M.C., Zandi, P.P., Lyketsos C.G. The Cache County Study on Memory in Aging: Factors affecting risk of Alzheimer's disease and its progression after onset. International Review of Psychiatry.  In press.

Hatch DJ*, DeHart WB*, Norton MC.  Subjective Stressors Moderate Effectiveness of a Multi-Component, Multi-Site Intervention on Caregiver Depression and Burden. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.  In press.

Johansson L, Guo X, Hällström T, Norton MC, Waern M, Östling S, Bengtsson C, Skoog I.  Common psychosocial stressors in middle-aged women related to longstanding distress and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a 38 year follow-up study.  British Medical Journal. September 30, 2013;3(9):e003142.

Norton MC, Clark C *, Fauth EB, Piercy KW, Pfister R, Green RC, Corcoran C, Rabins PV, Lyketsos CG, Tschanz JT.   Caregiver Personality Predicts Rate of Cognitive Decline in a Community Sample of Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease. The Cache County Dementia Progression Study. International Psychogeriatrics.  2013.  E-pub ahead of print. doi:10.1017/S1041610213001105

Greene, D.*, Tschanz, J.T., Smith, K.R., Østbye, T., Corcoran, C., Welsh-Bohmer, K.A., & Norton, M.C. (2013). Impact of offspring death on cognitive health in late life. The Cache County study. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2013.05.002.

Helmes E, Norton MC, Østbye T. Personality change in older adults with dementia: Occurrence and association with severity of cognitive change.  Advances in Aging Research.  2013; 2(1):27-36. doi:10.4236/aar.2013.21004.

Tschanz JT, Piercy K, Corcoran C, Fauth E, Norton MC, Rabins PV, Tschanz JT, DeBerard MS, Snyder C*, Smith C, Lee L, & Lyketsos CG. Caregiver Coping Strategies Predict Cognitive and Functional Decline in Dementia. The Cache County Dementia Progression Study.  American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.  2013 Jan.  21(1): 57-66. PMID: 23290203

Lee CT *, Leoutsakos JM, Lyketsos CG, Steffens DC, Breitner JCS, Norton MC. (2012).  Latent Class-Derived Depression Subgroups in a Community Sample of Older Adults: The Cache County Study.  International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.  2012 Oct;27(10):1061-9. doi: 10.1002/gps.2824. Epub 2011 Dec 2.

Norton MC, Dew J, Smith H *, Fauth E, Piercy KW, Breitner JCS, Tschanz J, Wengreen H, Welsh-Bohmer K. (2012).  Lifestyle Behavior Pattern is associated with different levels of risk for incident dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. The Cache County Study. The Cache County Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 60:405–412, 2012 Mar; 60(3):405-12.    DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03860.x  [PMID:   22316091 PMCID:  PMC3302927]

Tschanz J, Pfister R, Wanzek J*, Corcoran C, Smith K, Tschanz JT, Steffens DC, Østbye T, Welsh-Bohmer K, Norton M..  Stressful events in late-life: effects on cognitive decline. The Cache County Study. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.  2012 Oct 4. doi: 10.1002/gps.3888. [Epub ahead of print]

Piercy, K.W., Fauth, E., Pfister, R., Norton, M.C., Corcoran, C., Rabins, P.V., Lyketsos, C., & Tschanz, J. Predictors of Dementia Caregiver Depressive Symptoms in a Population:  The Cache County Dementia Progression Study.  Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.  December 14, 2012; Available from: MEDLINE, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 31, 2013.

Fauth, E., Hess, K., Piercy, K., Norton, M., Rabins, P., Lyketsos, C., & Tschanz, J. (2012).  Caregivers’ relationship closeness with the person with dementia predicts both positive and negative outcomes for caregivers’ physical health and psychological well-being. Aging and Mental Health.  DOI:10.1080/13607863.2012.678482

Norton, M.C., Smith, K.R., Østbye, T., Tschanz, J.T., Corcoran, C., Schwartz, S., Skoog, I., Steffens, D.C., Welsh-Bohmer, K.A., & Breitner, J.C.S. (2011). Early parental death and remarriage of widowed parents as risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.  American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,  9(9):814-824.   [PMCID: PMC3164808]

Treiber, K.A.*, Carlson, M., Corcoran, C., Norton, M.C., Breitner, J.C.S., Piercy, K.W., DeBerard, M.S.,Stein, D., Foley, B., Welsh-Bohmer, K.A.,Frye, A., Lyketsos, C.G., & Tschanz, J.T. (2011, July). Cognitive stimulation and cognitive and functional decline in alzheimer’s disease: The Cache County dementia progression study.  Journals of Gerontology Series B - Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66(4) 416-425. [PMCID: PMC3132266]

Norton, M.C., Smith, K.R., Østbye, T., Tschanz, J.T., Corcoran, C., Schwartz, S., Piercy, K.W., Rabins, P.V., Steffens, D.C., Skoog, I., Breitner, J.C.S., & Welsh-Bohmer, K.A. (2010). Greater risk of dementia when spouse has dementia? The Cache County study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58, 895-900. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02806.x

Norton MC, Piercy KW, Rabins PV, Green RC, Breitner JCS, Østbye T, Corcoran C, Welsh-Bohmer KA, Lyketsos CG, Tschanz JT.  Caregiver/recipient closeness and symptom progression in Alzheimer disease.  The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 2009 Sep;64(5):560-8. [PMCID: PMC2728091]