Amber Watts, PhD

Amber Watts
  • Associate Professor
  • Lab Director

Contact Info

Fraser Hall
Lawrence, KS


My research investigates health behaviors, prevention strategies, and bio-behavioral processes associated with healthy aging, cognitive decline & dementia. Many of my current research projects are conducted in cooperation with the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center in Kansas City.


PhD in Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA


Current research projects include: 1) actigraphy (body worn devices) to measure physical activity and sleep in older adults, 2) Lifestyle Empowerment for Alzheimer's Prevention (LEAP! program) 3) women's experiences of midlife and menopause, 4) effects of of genotypes and on cognitive function in aging and Alzheimer's disease

Research interests:

  • Aging
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Older Adults
  • Physical Activity
  • Accelerometry
  • Sleep
  • Lifestyle Interventions
  • Midlife
  • Menopause


I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in Clinical Neuroscience and Research Methods

Teaching interests:

  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Research Methods
  • Professional Seminar for Clinical Psychology

Selected Publications

  1. Perales-Puchalt, J., Acosta-Rullan, M., Ramirez-Mantilla, M. Espinoza-Kissell, P., Vidoni, E., Niedens, M., Ellerbeck, E., Hinton, L., Loera, L., Susana Ramirez, A., Lara, E., Watts, A., Williams, K. Resendez, J., & Burns, J. (2022). Development of CuidaTEXT: A text message intervention to support Latino dementia family caregivers. JMIR Aging, 5(2),
  2. Ghosal, R., Varma, V. R., Volfson, D., Hillel, I., Urbanek, J., Hausdorff, J. M., Watts, A., & Zipunnikov, V. (2021). Distributional data analysis via quantile functions and its application to modelling digital biomarkers of gait in Alzheimer’s Disease. Biostatistics, kxab041 doi:10.1093/biostatistics/kxab041.
  3. Hicks, H., Laffer, A., Meyer, K., & Watts, A. (2021). Estimates of Physical Activity in Older Adults using the ActiGraph Low Frequency Extension Filter. Journal for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour. doi:10.1123/jmpb.2020-0034.
  4. Varma, V., Ghosal, R., Volfson, D., Weiss, J., Urbanek, J., Hausdorff, J., Zipunnikov, V., & Watts, A. (2021). Continuous gait monitoring discriminates community dwelling mild AD from cognitively normal controls. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, 7(1) doi:10.1002/trc2.12131.
  5. Salazar-Villanea, M., Chacón-Araya, Y., Watts, A., Vidoni, E. D., Billinger, S. A, Johnson, D. K., & Moncada-Jiménez, J. (2021). Aerobic fitness and neurocognitive performance in older adults from Kansas and Costa Rica.International Journal of Sport Psychology, 52, 248-265. doi: 10.7352/IJSP.2021.52.248.
  6. Vidoni, E. D., Morris, J. K., Watts, A., Perry, M., Clutton, J., Van Sciver, A., Kamat, A., Mahnken, J., Hunt, S. L., Townley, R., Honea, R., Shaw, A. R., Johnson, D. K., Vacek, J., Burns, J. M., (2021). Effect of aerobic exercise on amyloid accumulation in preclinical Alzheimer’s: A 1-year randomized controlled trial. PLoS One,doi:10.1101/2020.08.03.20167684.
  7. Kaufman, C. S., Honea, R. A., Pleen, J., Lepping, R. J., Watts, A., Morris, J. K., Billinger, S. A., Burns, J. M., & Vidoni, E. D. (2021). Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal blood flow for hypertensive apolipoprotein ε4 carriers. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism. doi: 10.1177/0271678X21990342. PMID: 33509035.
  8. Bevan, A., Vidoni, E., & Watts, A. (2020). Rate of perceived exertion and cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease. International Journal of Exercise Science, 13(3), 18-35.PMID: 32148626 PMCID: PMC7039494
  9. Watts, A., Wilkins, H., Michaelis, E., & Swerdlow, R. (2019). TOMM40 ‘523 associations with baseline and longitudinal cognition in APOEε3 homozygotes. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 70(4), 1059-1068. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-190293.
  10. Farina, N., Hughes, L. J., Watts, A., & Lowry, R. G. (2019). Use of physical activity questionnaires in people with dementia: A scoping review. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 27(3), 413-421. doi: 10.1123/japa.2018-0031.
  11. Watts, A., Mortby, M., & Burns, J. (2018).Depressive symptoms as a barrier to engagement in physical activity in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease. PLoS One 13(12): e0208581.
  12. Watts, A., Garnier-Villarreal, M., Gardiner, P. (2018). Sitting time in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease. Journal for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour, 1(2), 70-78. DOI:10.1123/jmpb.2018-0002.
  13. Khou, C., Rendzia, B., & Watts, A. (2018). 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, 5, 1-7. DOI:10.1177/2055668318777989
  14. 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, 64, 361-372. DOI: 10.1159/000486369
  15. Breda, A., & Watts, A. (2017). The relationship between expectations regarding aging, physical activity, and subjective physical function in older adults. Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine, 3, 1-8.DOI:10.1177/2333721417702350
  16. Varma, V., & Watts, A. (2017). Daily physical activity patterns during the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 55(2), 659-667. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-160582.
  17. Watts, A., Walters, R., Hoffman, L., & Templin, J. (2016). Intra-individual variability of physical activity in older adults with and without mild Alzheimer’s disease. PLoS One, 11(4): e0153898. DOI:10.1371/ journal.pone.0153898.
  18. Vidoni, E., Watts, A., Burns, J. M., Greer, C., Graves, R., VanSciver, A., Black, J. R., Cooper, S. K, Nagely, A. C., Uphoff, E., Volmer, J. M., Bieberle, N. A. (2016). Feasibility of a memory clinic-based physical activity prescription program. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 53(1), 161-170.DOI:10.3233/JAD-160158.
  19. 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.
  20. Watts, A., Ferdous, F., Diaz Moore, K., & Burns, J. (2015).Neighborhood integration and connectivity predict cognitive decline in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease.Gerontology & Geriatric Medicine, 1, 1-9. DOI:10.1177/2333721415599141.
  21. 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(1), 187-193. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-142085.
  22. Watts, A., Loskutova, N., Johnson, D. K., & Burns, J. (2013). Metabolic syndrome and cognitive decline in early Alzheimer’s disease and healthy older adults. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 35(2), 253-265. DOI:10.3233/JAD-121168.
  23. Watts, A., Vidoni, E., Loskutova, N., Johnson, D. K., & Burns, J. (2013). Measuring physical activity in older adults with and without Alzheimer’s disease. Clinical Gerontologist, 36(4), 356-374. DOI:10.1080/07317115.2013.788116.
  24. 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.0b013e31820d89b6
  25. 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. DOI:10.1001/archneurol.2010.38.
  26. Watts, A., Crimmins, E. M., & Gatz, M. (2008). Inflammation as a potential mediator for the association between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 4(5), 865-876. DOI: 10.2147/ndt.s3610

Awards & Honors

Public Scholars Trainee (2022)

Keeler Fellowship (Spring 2021)

First Book Workshop, Hall Center (Spring 2020)

Fellow, Gerontological Society of America (2018)

Retirement Research Foundation Scholarship (2016)

Retirement Research Foundation Fellow (2015)

ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Aging Research Visiting Fellowship Travel Award (2015)

Grants & Other Funded Activity

2022-2023       A. Watts (PI)

Developing a Representative Cohort to study Midlife Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

Developmental Award, KU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center


2022-2023       A. Watts (PI)

Sex-based disparities in Alzheimer’s disease risk at Midlife

General Research Fund, KU


2022-               S. Billinger (PI) and J. Burns (PI), A. Watts (Training Faculty)

Institutional Training Program, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center T32, NIA


2020-2022       Perales-Puchalt (PI), Niedens, Burns, Vidoni (Co-Is), Watts (Consultant)

CuidaTXT: a Text Message Dementia-Caregiver Intervention for Latinos

NIA R21 AG065755-01


2019-2020       A. Watts (PI)

Physical Activity and Sleep Study in Older Adults

General Faculty Research Fund, University of Kansas


2019-2023       R. Swerdlow (PI), A. Watts (Co-I)

Mechanistic basis of the mtDNA haplogroup J – Alzheimer’s disease association

National Institutes of Health 1R01AG061194-01


2017-2021       J. Burns (PI), A. Watts Co-I (Project Director)

Prescribing Smart Aging: Integrating Health Systems with Community-Based Lifestyle Interventions

National Institute on Aging 1R01AG052954-01


2016-       R. Swerdlow (PI), A. Watts (Co-I)

University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center

National Institute on Aging P30AG035982