by Michael Matulka
As lead Psychometrist with the University of Washington Department of Medicine, Zilpha Haycox finds that people often do not have a clue as to what she does by her title alone. "Everybody is confused by the word psychometrist when I hand them my card," she says. It's not enough to say that a psychometrist measures mental capabilities, Haycox explains "I tell them that what I do is test people's memory."
Knowing that people can feel threatened by memory loss and that getting "tested"can produce fear and anxiety, Haycox emphasizes the positive aspects of testing by looking to find what people's strengths are. Sensitive to the testing situation, Haycox says "I know that they haven't been in this kind of almost school situation for a long time. Anything that makes people feel comfortable is what matters to me." It is this type of awareness that makes Haycox such an effective and understanding psychometrist, getting the best performance people have to give.
After receiving a B.S. in Psychology in 1976 from Portland State University, Haycox worked for seven years with five psychologists at Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. Working in rehabilitation with spinal cord injury patients and in the stroke unit provided her with extensive experience in administering neuropsychological tests in a clinical setting. These skills proved to be a benefit in the research setting at the University of Washington.
Haycox came to Seattle in 1987 to be closer to her grandchildren. With her move, she transferred her experience in Portland to a research position at the UW, where she began work on the Alzheimer's Disease Patient Registry (ADPR) headed by Dr. Eric Larson. The work with the ADPR involves traveling to study participants' residences to conduct a series of memory tests, usually lasting around an hour and a half. The results of the tests are reviewed by a team of professionals for early signs of Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Haycox is also currently involved in working with the Adult Changes in Thought research study.
"I enjoy working with people as a psychometrist and I often get people to feel comfortable during the testing," says Haycox. Although it can be a challenge, she says."People are concerned about their memory and when they find out what I do, often freeze up." Much of this is due to the fact that each person is different and offers a particular set of circumstances, both physical and mental, which make each test administration unique. Haycox finds that by overcoming people's initial fears about memory loss she can help ease their tension, and stress the positive goals of getting the best possible performance.
Besides her work, Haycox, who has four children and six grandchildren, is devoted to her family, getting together with many family members in the area for different events. Outside of her family, Haycox says "I love to be out in nature" which for her means either sea kayaking or bicycling.
Haycox enjoys working at the University of Washington in Alzheimer's research. "I find the work rewarding because when I started out in this work there were a lot of people who really needed help and didn't know where to turn for it," she says. That has changed dramatically. Now people have a variety of resources to draw upon, explains Haycox. "Since I came here I have seen what has happened in the arena of helping people cope with this disease and it's very rewarding to play some role in that."
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