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Healthy heart, healthy mind. The same factors that put people at risk for a stroke may also diminish cognitive skills such as visual memory, planning, and organization, according to a new study by Merrill Elias, a CAS research professor in the department of mathematics and statistics. Ultimately, according to Elias, these factors may be associated with the development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Elias and his colleagues used the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (FSRP), a validated scale developed in the Framingham Heart Study, the landmark epidemiological study begun in 1948 by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and operated by BU since 1971, to assess stroke risk in a group of the children (currently age 33 to 88) of the original study cohort. This group participates in the Framingham Offspring Study. The profile takes into account such factors as age, systolic blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, history of cardiovascular disease, left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the lower left chamber of the heart), and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm) to assess the likelihood of subjects’ having a stroke within the next 10 years.

Offspring Study participants had been examined seven times beginning in 1971 to identify risk factors for cardiovascular (heart) and cerebrovascular (stroke) disease. Elias and his team analyzed the stroke-risk results and the results of a battery of cognitive ability tests given after the seventh examination. They found that an increase in the measure of stroke risk was statistically related to decreased scores in measures of abstract reasoning, visual-spatial memory, visual organization, concentration, visual scanning, and tracking. The researchers controlled for other factors associated with cognitive function, such as age, education, and gender, as well as risk factors not included in the FSRP, such as depression.

The researchers expect to extend this work to a more ethnically and educationally diverse population, and to examine changes in cognitive abilities over time, but they feel the initial finding has important implications for prevention of stroke and intervention with early symptoms of stroke and cognitive deficit.

“This work is important because people don’t just suddenly develop vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” says Elias. “The study underscores the importance of preventing or treating risk factors for stroke to avoid losses in cognitive ability at an early stage.”

Their work was reported in the February issue of Stroke, an American Heart Association journal.


Artful management. According to the Project Management Institute, U.S. businesses spend .3 trillion a year on projects, about a quarter of the U.S. domestic product. Research by the Standish Group indicates, however, that only 28 percent of information technology projects, for example, are successfully completed. Mark Gould, director of management development programs for the BU Corporate Education Center (BUCEC), believes that the success rate of projects could be increased significantly by thinking of project management as both an art and a science. He and Richard Freeman, BUCEC chief business development officer, have developed a tool for this purpose.

BUCEC’s competency model divides project management skills into three major categories -- technical, personal, and business and leadership. While the technical area represents the science of management, the personal and business leadership areas focus on the art. Within each category several specific skills are identified -- for example, “cost management” within technical, “helping and human services” within personal, and “big picture focus” within business and leadership. Each of 19 different skills is further broken down into clusters describing the specific behaviors required to successfully manage a project. Clusters are subdivided into elements, and elements into performance criteria. For example, the category “business and leadership” contains the unit “business acumen,” within which is the cluster “business operations knowledge,” the element “knows the business,” and the performance criterion “provides project team with context regarding the history and key success factors of the business.”

A scale ranging from “unaware” (do not recognize this knowledge or skill in the candidate) to “expert” (candidate coaches and supports others using a breadth of experience or specialized depth of expertise) can then be applied to each of the clusters to assess the competency of a managerial candidate.

“As much care should be given to the appointment of a project manager for a mission-critical project as is given during the hiring process for a key position within the company,” Freeman says, “and yet most organizations have no process for choosing project managers and little idea what skills and personality traits are needed.”

A white paper describing the model, entitled “The Art of Project Management: A Competency Model for Project Managers,” can be ordered through the BUCEC Web site: http://www.BUTrain.com.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit http://www.bu.edu/research.

       

15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations