Psychologist Karlene Ball, Ph.D., has won the 2008 Carolyn P. and Charles W. Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.

A dinner and lecture will be held Thursday, May 1 at 6:45 p.m. in the Alys Stephens Center upper lobby. Cocktails will be served at 6 p.m. in the Stephens Center downstairs lobby. Tickets are $20 each. For more details, or to R.S.V.P., contact the University Events Office at .

The Ireland Prize is awarded annually to a full-time faculty member in the school of Arts and Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, or Social and Behavioral Sciences for their professional and academic achievements and contributions to the university and local community. Made possible by the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Endowment for Scholarly Distinction, the prize comes with a $5,000 cash award.

Ball joined UAB in 1996 and is an internationally renowned experimental psychologist who studies cognitive aging. She directs the UAB Center for Research in Applied Gerontology, and she is associate director of the UAB Center for Aging in the School of Medicine.
“This is a great honor,” Ball says.

Ball has studied the visual and cognitive correlates of mobility problems of older adults with an emphasis on driving skills for more than 20 years. Her research focuses primarily on the development and testing of assessment measures and cognitive rehabilitation programs for older adults.

“We have been evaluating cognitive training programs for many years now,” Ball says. “We’re working with several industry partners, trying to find the best way to deliver these kinds brain-fitness programs.”

One of those partners is State Farm. UAB is teaming with the insurance company to conduct a study to assess benefits for participants in the training program. The tests measure the effectiveness of the training programs on driving safety and mobility. State Farm is inviting its Alabama customers who are 75 and older to participate. Interested participants are enrolled in the study after contacting UAB.

“We started this study three or four years ago when we were just looking to see whether or not a screening test would predict who would have more insurance claims in the future,” Ball says. “Now, we’re offering State Farm-insured drivers the training program.

“We are hoping to help insurance companies and state departments of motor vehicles think about this issue on a broad scale, looking closely at answering the question: What’s the best way to keep older adults safely on the road? I think if we can come up with a program to provide older adults incentives to maintain or improve their cognitive fitness it will benefit everyone,” she says.

Ball’s research has resulted in the development and continued investigation of a test called Useful Field of View (the UFOV® test), which measures visual attention and identifies older drivers at risk for having traffic accidents.

One of the common misconceptions about driving problems associated with older age is that it is solely due to diminished vision, she says. Research has shown that a more prevalent problem is diminishing skills in how quickly some older adults process information and their ability pay attention to multiple things at once.

“These kinds of visual processing abilities can decline with age independently of how well you see,” Ball says. “There are a lot of people with excellent vision who are having a hard time keeping up with the cognitive demands of driving. Those are the people who tend to end up crashing.”

Ball has co-authored many papers resulting from a multi-site clinical trial (the ACTIVE study), supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Nursing Research, which found that older adults benefit from training to improve reasoning, memory and speed of processing. Later papers report that improvements in cognitive function resulted in everyday benefits, including improved health-related quality of life, reduced driving difficulty and maintained mobility.