Project Talent surveyed more than 400,000 high school students in 1960, including all of Hoover High School.
In 1960, more than 400,000 students, including all of Hoover High School, took part in a nationwide study.
Now, researchers are asking some of those students for help in a new study on dementia.
The American Institute of Research is continuing the work started 58 years ago with Project Talent.
Researchers are looking at risk factors or predictive factors in early life that would either "prevent someone from developing dementia or put them at great risk of dementia," said Susan Lapham, vice president of research and evaluation for Project Talent.
The study is in the early phases of data collection but has the potential to make a huge impact, said Lapham, comparing it to the Framingham Heart Study that led to most of today's knowledge on heart disease.
"We hope that we find results that will help reduce the rate of dementia, not just for this generation of individuals but for their children and grandchildren," she said.
According to Project Talent, the initial study was the largest and most comprehensive study of American high school students at that time. About 440,000 students from 1,353 high schools took part in the 1960 study — about 5 percent of the school population.
The study was prompted by the Soviet Union launching Sputnik 1 and fears the U.S. would fall behind in the space race, Lapham said.
Researchers worked to identify high school students' talents with a goal of steering those who showed strengths in engineering or aeronautics into that career path, she said.
The study didn't stop at identifying just those traits but worked to find every student's strengths, weaknesses and career aptitude, she added.
The study asked students to answer about 400 questions about demographics, their personality, their family and their community. They also took aptitude tests and a test similar to the SAT, and were asked to discuss aspirations and plans for the future. Results were shared with high school guidance counselors, who were instructed to follow up with students about possible career paths.
Jeanne Leed, 73, of North Canton, remembers spending a few days her sophomore year at Hoover taking the tests.
"I remember them explaining before we took it that it was going to be a study that would continue throughout our lifetime, setting a baseline for where we are now and what we thought would happen. And they would follow up with us," she said.
But a lot of Hoover students didn't buy it, she said. The rumor was "they want to find out who's the smartest, it's not really a study."
Project Talent did follow up with students one, five and 11 years after their expected graduation date.
Leed and her husband, Garry, who's also a Hoover graduate, both have received follow-up studies over the years.
"The first time I heard from them after I had graduated and left home, I was surprised they were really following up. And I've been impressed that they've stuck with it," she said. "You don't know as a kid ... what group this is and how reliable they are. Over the years, I've come to understand they must be totally serious about what they're doing because they've been so good about keeping up with us."
According to Project Talent, data collected from the study has been used in more than 450 government reports, academic articles and scholarly books. Some of those reports can be found at ProjectTalent.org.
When AIR reached out to original participants in 2009 to see if there would be interest in a new study, they were able to find 96 percent of the original participants and 78 percent responded to a survey, an unheard of result, said Lapham.
Project Talent also attended more than 700 high school reunions across the country between 2010 and 2014 to connect with original participants at their 50th class reunions, she said. "It was a lot of fun. These people are amazing, wonderful people."
"They've lived through such an interesting time," she said. "A lot of schools were segregated in 1960. (They lived through) civil rights and women's rights, the Vietnam War, the age of computers."
For the current study, Project Talent reached out to a random sample of about 10 percent of students in each state.
Garry Leed was one of those randomly selected. When he received the follow-up study in the mail, Jeanne contacted Project Talent and volunteered to participate as well.
The Leeds had no idea when they answered all those questions in 1960 they'd one day be part of a study about dementia.
"I think that's awesome," Jeanne Leed said. "If somehow something we did growing up was a factor, I think that would be interesting to know."
Project Talent is asking those who've received a survey in the mail to respond. Those who didn't receive a follow-up but would like to participate, can contact Project Talent at their website or at 1-866-770-6077.
Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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