Behavioral Research in Aging, Neuroscience, Cognition, and Health

Amber Watts, PhD

Research Centers - Psychology
Associate Professor
Primary office:
Fraser Hall
Room 426
University of Kansas
1415 Jayhawk Boulevard
Lawrence, KS 66045-7556


My research investigates health behaviors, prevention strategies, and bio-behavioral processes associated with cognitive decline & dementia. My current research projects focus on the effect of physical activity on health and cognitive function in older adults with and without Alzheimer's disease in cooperation with the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center in Kansas City. My research laboratory is called the Behavioral Research in Aging, Neuroscience, Cognition, and Health (BRANCH) Lab.


I primarily teach graduate and undergraduate courses in Clinical Neuroscience, Behavioral Genetics, and Research Methods

Teaching Interests

  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Genetics
  • Biological Foundations of Psychopathology
  • Statistics and Research Methods


Some current research projects in my lab include: 1) use of portable electronic devices to measure physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep in older adults with and without Alzheimer's disease, 2) intervention to reduce sitting time in individuals with mild cognitive impairment 3) Lifestyle Enrichment for Alzheimer's Prevention (LEAP! program) 4) expectations about aging and how they influence health behaviors and health outcomes, 5) the interaction of genotypes and physical activity on cognitive function

Research Interests

  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Aging
  • Physical Activity
  • Health
  • Older Adults
  • Accelerometry
  • Sleep
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Lifestyle Interventions
  • Neighborhoods

Selected Publications

Khou, C. Rendzia, B. & Watts, A. (in press). Evaluation of waist-worn actigraphy monitors for the assessment of sleep in older adults with and without Alzheimer's disease. Journal of Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies Engineering.

Watts, A. Garnier-Villarreal, M. & Gardiner, P. (in press). Measurement of sitting time in older adults with and without AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease . Journal for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour.

Montgomery, R. Watts, A. Burns, N. Vidoni, E. & Mahnken, J. (2018). Evaluating paired categorical data when the pairing is lost . Journal of Applied Statistics. DOI:10.1080/02664763.2018.1485013

Watts, A. Andrews, S. & Anstey, K. (2018). Sex differences in the impact of BDNF genotype on the longitudinal relationship between physical activity and cognitive performance . Gerontology. DOI:10.1159/000486369

Varma, V. & Watts, A. (2017). Daily physical activity patterns during the early stage of AlzheimerΓÇÖs Disease . Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 55(2), 659-667. DOI:10.3233/JAD-160582

Breda, A. & Watts, A. (2017). The relationship between expectations regarding aging, physical activity, and subjective physical function in older adults. . Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. DOI:10.1177/2333721417702350

Rhyner, K. T., & Watts, A. (2016). Exercise and depressive symptoms in older adults: A systematic meta-analytic review. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 24(2), 234-246. DOI:10.1123/japa.2015-0146

Vidoni, E. Watts, A. Burns, J. Black, J. Bieberle, N. Uphoff, L. Graves, R. & Van Sciver, A. (2016). Feasibility of a memory clinical based physical activity prescription program . Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. DOI:10.3233/JAD-160158

Watts, A. Walters, R. Hoffman, L. & Templin, J. (2016). Intra-individual variability of physical activity in older adults with and without mild AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease. . PLoS One, 11(4), e0153898. DOI:10.1371/ journal.pone.0153898

Watts, A. Honea, R. Billinger, S. Hutfles, L. Vidoni, E. Rhyner, K. & Burns, J. (2015). A combined measure of vascular risk for white matter lesions. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 45, 187-193. DOI:10.3233/JAD-142085

Watts, A. Diaz Moore, K. Ferdous, F. & Burns, J. (2015). Neighborhood integration and connectivity predict cognitive decline in older adults with and without AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease. Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine, 1. DOI:10.1177/2333721415599141

Watts, A. Vidoni, E. Loskutova, N. Johnson, D. K., & Burns, J. (2013). Measuring physical activity in older adults with and without AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease. Clinical Gerontologist, 36(4), 356-374. DOI:10.1080/07317115.2013.788116.

Watts, A. Loskutova, N. Johnson, D. K., & Burns, J. (2013). Metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline in early AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease and healthy older adults. Journal of AlzheimerΓÇÖs Disease, 35, 253-265. DOI:10.3233/JAD-121168

Johnson, D. K., Watts, A. Chapin, B. A., Anderson, R. & Burns, J. M. (2011). Neuropsychiatric profiles in dementia. Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders, 25(4), 326-332. DOI:10.1097/WAD.0b013e31820d89bs

Burns, J. M., Johnson, D. K., Watts, A. Swerdlow, R. & Brooks, W. M. (2010). Reduced lean mass in early Alzheimer disease and its association with brain atrophy. Archives of Neurology, 67(4), 428-433.

Watts, A. Crimmins, E. M., & Gatz, M. (2008). Inflammation as a potential mediator for the association between periodontal disease and AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 4(5), 865-876.

Selected Grants

Burns, Jeffrey, Watts, Amber, (Co-Investigator), Prescribing Smart Aging: Integrating Health Systems with Community-Based Lifestyle Interventions, 1R01AG052954-01, National Institutes of Health, Submitted 01/01/2016 (01/01/2017. Federal. Status: Funded.

Watts, Amber, (Co-Principal), Moncada, Jose, (Co-Principal), Physical fitness and neurocognitive performance in older adults in Kansas and Costa Rica, Office of International Programs, $25,000, (06/01/2014. University (KU or KUMC). Status: Funded.

Gardiner, Paul, (Principal), Lautenschlager, Nicola, (Co-Investigator), Rosenberg, Dori, (Co-Investigator), Lewis, L, (Co-Investigator), Watts, Amber, (Co-Investigator), Anstey, Kaarin, (Co-Investigator), A randomised controlled trial of reducing prolonged sitting to improve cognitive function in insufficiently active frail older adults, Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (Australia), $200,000, (01/01/2016 - 12/31/2018). Other. Status: Funded.

Watts, Amber, (Principal), Thyfault, John, (Co-Principal), Befort, Christie, (Co-Principal), Intervention to Reduce Sitting Time in Mild Cognitive Impairment (ReST-MCI)., Univ of KS Med Ctr Research Institute and National Institutes of Health, $20,000, (09/15/2016 - 06/30/2017). Federal. Status: Funded.

Watts, Amber, (Principal), The effects of sedentary behavior and metabolic syndrome on cognitive performance, NIH Loan Repayment Program, (01/01/2013 - 12/31/2015). Federal. Status: Funded.

Watts, A., (Principal), Neighborhood Characteristics, Walking, and Sedentary Behavior in AD, KU- AlzheimerΓÇÖs Disease Center Pilot Award, $30,000, (01/01/2013 - 12/31/2014). University (KU or KUMC). Status: Funded.

Diaz-Moore, Keith, (Co-Principal), Watts, Amber, (Co-Principal), Resilient Lifestyles for Older Adults, Strategic Initiatives Award, $50,000, (01/01/2012 - 12/31/2014). University (KU or KUMC). Status: Funded.

Watts, Amber, (Principal), Measuring unstructured physical activity in older adults with and without AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease, NCATS #UL1TR000001; NCRR #UL1RR033179, Frontiers Pilot and Collaborative Studies, Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA), $30,000, (01/01/2012 - 12/31/2013). Federal. Status: Funded.

Watts, A., (Principal), The Role of Physical Activity in Cognitive Decline and Dementia, Clinical Loan Repayment Award, NIH Loan Repayment Program, (01/01/2010 - 12/31/2012). Federal. Status: Funded.

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