Dr. Craik Fergus, Craik Fergus, Baycrest Health Sciences, Rotman Research Institute

Baycrest’s RRI pioneer inducted into American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Dr. Fergus Craik was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences on October 8, joining the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists.

Dr. Craik, senior scientist at the Rotman Research Institute (RRI), joins the Academy as a foreign honorary member for demonstrated excellence in the field of psychology. The Academy boasts an exclusive membership including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell and Albert Einstein.

His work has greatly impacted our understanding of how memories are created and how memory changes with age. He discovered that during aging, older adults have a difficult time remembering information offhand, but once an environmental support or a hint is provided to trigger a memory, their ability to remember is greatly enhanced.

“This theory can be applied to designing homes for older adults since their cognitive abilities are supported by familiar environments,” says Dr. Craik, who has been at the RRI since its inception in 1989. “If older adults move into a long-term care home, it’s best that they bring as many things as possible from their previous home to support their cognitive abilities, as these are often temporarily depressed when entering a new environment.”

He is best known for his work on the psychological theory, levels of processing, which presented the idea that the depth of mental analysis impacts a person’s ability to recall information. This theory shed new light on the scientific community’s understanding of memory at the time and has since become well-accepted in cognitive psychology.

Dr. Craik has also been involved in Baycrest’s groundbreaking study on bilingualism’s effect in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. The research team led by Dr. Ellen Bialystok, Rotman Research Institute Associate Scientist and York University Professor of Psychology, continues to explore bilingualism’s effect on normal aging and on patients with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that leads to a higher risk of dementia.

Research will help in discovering how bilingualism and other life experiences, such as higher education and a cognitively-challenging occupation, contribute to “cognitive reserve” that protects the brain from developing dementia. Understanding the ways these experiences change the brain could lead to the development of targeted programs that delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases among older adults.

“Dr. Fergus Craik’s research provides a fundamental understanding of the human memory and how it changes during aging,” says Dr. Randy McIntosh, Baycrest’s Vice-President of Research and Director of the RRI. “His work forms the crux of developing translational research programs.”

Dr. Craik was previously recognized by being named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He was also awarded a prestigious Killam Prize by the Canada Council.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the United States’ oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing the nation and the world.