Cognitive Empowerment Program Announces Inaugural Seed Grant Recipients

<p>Students and MCI Fellows design elements of a therapeutic kitchen for the MCI Empowerment Program</p>

Students and MCI Fellows design elements of a therapeutic kitchen for the MCI Empowerment Program

With the goal of faster development, testing, and distribution of evidence-based interventions for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the Cognitive Empowerment Program (CEP) is supporting several new seed grants.

People with MCI have difficulty with memory, problem-solving, or spatial ability. The condition affects an estimated 15 - 20% of people over the age of 65. In January 2020, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University’s Brain Health Center will open CEP, which is funded by $23.7 million in grants from the James M. Cox Foundation and Cox Enterprises. 

The program includes four components: the therapeutics core, built environment core, technology core, and the innovation accelerator. The Innovation Accelerator (IA) is supporting the seed grant program and engaging academic and research faculty to lead teams of students and persons with MCI to identify needs and explore creative solutions together through a multidisciplinary, co-design process. 

In many cases, solutions developed to support people with MCI may have broader applicability to other user groups, and the wider community interested in health, aging, and cognition. 

Each year for the next three years, the CEP's Innovation Accelerator (IA) will award $150,000 in seed grants to grow the body of literature in the MCI space. This inaugural seed grant year, the IA has awarded five seed grants to interdisciplinary teams from Georgia Tech and Emory. Here are the seed grant recipients for 2019 - 2020: 

Everyday Memory Intervention for Caring Dyads

Principal Investigators:

Ann Pearman, Georgia Institute of Technology

Chris Hertzog, Georgia Institute of Technology


Ken Hepburn, Emory University

This intervention is designed to help both CEP members and their care partners (caring dyads) learn new techniques to help improve their everyday memory and functioning. Investigators will teach both people strategies to manage their everyday functioning with a focus on self-regulation and dyadic interaction.


Identifying Barriers and Technological Interventions to Support Adherence Behaviors in Mild Cognitive Impairment 

Kayci L. Vickers, Emory University School of Medicine (PI)
Dr. Felicia C. Goldstein, Emory University School of Medicine (Co-I)
Maribeth Gandy Coleman, Georgia Institute of Technology (Co-I)
Laura Levy, Georgia Institute of Technology (Co-I)

Past research has shown that up to 40% of older adults do not adhere properly to prescribed medications, and that these rates are higher among individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Although it has been less well-studied, there is growing evidence that behavioral recommendations such as changing one’s diet, exercising more, becoming more cognitively active, and engaging in regular social activities are more difficult to carry out and therefore are likely to result in even higher rates of non-adherence. The proposed study aims to understand the major barriers to adherence to these types of regimens in individuals with MCI and their care partners, and to co-design technological solutions for overcoming these barriers. 


Development and Testing of a Social Game with the Therapeutic Potential for Individuals with MCI and their Families


Chantal Kerssens, Georgia Institute of Technology (PI)

Maribeth Gandy Coleman, Georgia Institute of Technology (Co-I)

Laura Levy, Georgia Institute of Technology (Co-I)

Subject Matter Experts:

Cecile Janssens, Emory University

Tracy Mitzner, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Molly Perkins, Emory University School of Medicine

Suzette Binford, Emory University

The proposed project aims to create, implement and test an adapted version of a well-known game, such as Scrabble, for people with MCI and their family members. Many couples and families seek opportunities to stay active, physically and mentally, to support their brain health. 

Feasibility of Using Tele-Technology for Mind-Body Interventions for People with Mild Cognitive Impairment


Tracy L. Mitzner, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Patricia C. Griffiths, Emory University

Group mind-body classes, such as tai chi and mindfulness, have the potential to provide both physical and social health benefits. Unfortunately, there are substantial logistical, cultural, and structural barriers for adults aging with cognitive disabilities, such as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), to engage in group exercise classes. Barriers include lack of transportation to classes, fear of negative stereotypes, and a dearth of instructors with appropriate training. Teletechnology, such as videoconferencing with audio and video exchange, provides the opportunity for people to deliver and attend group exercise classes remotely, with great potential to support people with MCI.


Feasibility of Measuring Natural Gait Speed In-Home to Quantify Falls Risk in Individuals with MCI


Jon Sanford, Georgia Institute of Technology

Joe Nocera, Emory School of Medicine

Dawn Fletcher, Brain Health Center (Co-I)

The purpose of the proposed pilot project is to demonstrate the feasibility of using continuous measures of naturalistic gait speed during an individual’s normal, everyday activity in the home environment and if the captured measures can provide a more reliable assessment of mobility and fall risk in individuals with MCI. 

Read full descriptions of each project on the Institute for People and Technology website.

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