WASHINGTON, D.C. — In 1960, the classes of 1960-63 at Great Bend High School became part of Project Talent, a landmark study of 440,000 American teenagers from 1,300 schools across the country. Now, project organizers have launched a 58-year follow-up of its participants, focusing on unravelling the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study included students from all walks of life from public and private schools, and presented a snapshot of a generation coming of age on the cusp of a new era, said Susan Lapham, Project Talent’s director. Developed by the American Institutes for Research and funded by the United States Office of Education, it was the most comprehensive study of American high school students ever conducted.
This week, 58 years later, participants will be sent a questionnaire and asked to take part in a follow-up study designed to learn how their lives have unfolded over the past five decades.
Follow-up studies collected information on occupations, family formation, education and health, Lapham said. Follow-up studies were conducted at one, five, and 11 years after graduation.
“This time around, its special focus is on memory and cognitive health in an effort to develop evidence-based policies to combat the looming Alzheimer’s crisis,” Lapham said. The participants are now in their mid-70s.
Studies project that by 2050, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease will more than triple, reaching 16 million, she said. The cost of caring for sufferers will exceed $1 trillion annually.
“The Project Talent generation is very important in the history of this country,” said Lapham. Now, it has the opportunity to help address one of the most pressing public health issues currently facing our country: the skyrocketing rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
“Project Talent is the only large-scale, nationally representative study that tracks participants from adolescence to retirement age,” Lapham said. “It helps us understand how experiences, environments, genetics, and behaviors combine to make us who we are and influence how we age.”
How Project Talent worked
Over two days in the spring of 1960, Project Talent assessed the aptitudes and abilities, hopes and expectations of high school students. 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.
In 1960, Project Talent was remarkable for the diversity of its participants, who represented every facet of American life. Researchers hope that the new Project Talent study will be just as diverse.
According to AIR spokesperson Sabine Horner, 611 GBHS students, the entire student body, took part in 1960. They followed up with all participants at one, five and 11 years after graduation. In addition, some students may have been involved in additional follow-up studies, such as a study of Vietnam veterans.
Some participants from Great Bend were likely also involved in more recent follow-ups, such as a pilot study conducted in 2012, or an ongoing twins and siblings study. “The data gathered from 1960 and beyond continues to be used for a variety of research studies on subjects ranging from type 2 diabetes to the long term impact of active military combat,” Horner said.
In addition, researchers undertook major outreach initiatives to reconnect with original participants in 2010-2013, coinciding with the 50th high school reunions, attending at least one in Great Bend.
Members of the GBHS classes of 1960-1963 who are asked to participate in the follow-up study are strongly encouraged complete the mail survey and share their experiences with researchers. Participants can call the project, 866-770-6077, or send an email to email@example.com.
They can also visit the Project Talent website www.projecttalent.org.