Antonio Terracciano wins coveted Fulbright Award


College of Medicine Professor of Geriatrics Antonio Terracciano has gained an international reputation for expertise in the relationships between personality, health and aging. Enough to be invited to consult on groundbreaking studies conducted at the Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences in Finland.

Soon, if conditions allow, Terracciano will be headed overseas to live, study, conduct research and teach at the University of Jyväskylä for five months after being named a Fulbright Scholar.

The “Fulbright award to Finland” is a “reflection of your leadership and contributions to society,” the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board told him in the award letter. The 12-person selection board is appointed by the president and funded by Congress.

“It’s a great opportunity to expand this collaboration with the University of Jyväskylä,” Terracciano said. “It allows me to go to a place and work in their center, where there will be an opportunity for cross-cultural research and to work and learn with people in a different cultural context.”

Terracciano described the opportunity as an important milestone in his career, but also as beneficial to both the FSU College of Medicine and the University of Jyväskylä, which is in the western part of the Finnish Lakeland – roughly midway between Sweden and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Terracciano’s research, which includes more than 200 publications and over 20,000 citations, centers on the way psychological traits and genetic factors contribute to physical and mental health as people age.

The studies he will consult on in Finland, and the area of focus for his research partners, pertain to ascertaining how maintaining physical activity combined with strength and cognitive training benefits older adults.

“They have more expertise on the role of physical activity; they are very strong in that aspect,” Terracciano said. “I contribute more on the personality and decline of cognitive skills aspect.”

The aim is for both to understand more about how personality, physical activity and cognitive training together influence people’s health as they age. For example, as physical activity goes down, what is the influence on cognitive decline and how might that increase the risk for dementia?

“My colleagues in Finland have just completed a trial to test the efficacy of a physical and cognitive training intervention vs. physical training alone to improve mobility and executive function among older residents of Jyväskylä,” Terracciano said.

“The proposed project will help identify who is at greater risk and who will benefit the most from interventions that foster active and healthy aging.”

The Fulbright, considered the world’s largest and most diverse international exchange program, was created in 1946 as a way of increasing mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and those of other countries.

Fulbright alumni include 60 Nobel laureates, 86 Pulitzer Prize winners and 74 MacArthur Fellows.

The program expects participants to engage with the local community. Terracciano plans to do that, in part, by teaching graduate students during his five-month stay and by getting to know more about the participants in the studies on physical activity conducted by the University of Jyväskylä.

While the U.S. State Department put Fulbright travel on hold in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Terracciano is excited to begin his journey when the moratorium is lifted.

He recently completed in Tallahassee a randomized trial that tested the effectiveness of a psychological-educational intervention for caregivers of dementia patients and is co-investigator on an NIH grant focused on improving adherence to cognitive training in older adults.

“I believe this fellowship is important for the state of Florida, where we have such a large proportion of older adults,” he said. “I hope to use what we learn through the trial in Finland to develop trials to help older adults in Florida maintain physical and cognitive function with age.”