Cognitive Empowerment Program

The vision of the Cognitive Empowerment Program (CEP) is to revolutionize the experience of people affected by MCI by creating a comprehensive approach that can be replicated nationally and internationally.

With the aim of speeding up development, testing and dissemination of evidence-based interventions for MCI, the Innovation Accelerator (IA) core is offering seed grants to support research in the following areas: therapeutic programming, technology, and the built environment. 

The funded projects should result in innovative solutions, strategies or methodologies developed through a culture of collaboration among students, researchers, clinicians, and people with MCI in less than 12 months’ time. Beginning in the fall of 2019, $150,000 in seed grants will be available each year for the next three years. Proposals can range from semester to year-long research projects and smaller proposals can target funds to convene valuable discussions, gather data, develop methods and metrics or to prototype new designs and technologies.

We’re pleased to announce that the following projects were selected 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 9(caring dyads) learn new techniques to help improve their everyday memory and functioning. We will teach both people strategies to manage their everyday functioning with a focus on self-regulation and dyadic interaction. Dyads will work both individually and as a two-person team to learn to set daily goals involving memory activities and techniques. We hope the results of participating in the study will be an increased feeling of everyday competence in terms of managing time, using simple but effective techniques to remember important things, and being mindful about memory. We also will emphasize the interactional component of time management and everyday cognition within each dyad. We expect dyads to feel more “in control” of their everyday life goals and to feel prepared for any future changes that may occur. This is an exciting opportunity for couples to work together at establishing new routines and daily goals in the face of changed cognition and other new challenges. The underlying goal is to empower both members of the dyad. 


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. This study will use a series of focus groups which include individuals with MCI and their care partners to identify the most prevalent barriers and the types of strategies being used to overcome these barriers. We will then use these results during co-design sessions to create technological solutions with Cognitive Empowerment Program (CEP) members in the innovation accelerator. After we have identified 2-3 possible solutions, we will conduct a second focus with CEP members to understand how likely they would be to use the proposed technological solutions and whether they would feel comfortable using the technology in their daily life. 


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. Playing a beloved game can be one way to stay active and engaged. However, in a game like Scrabble, the player with MCI is likely to find words that are shorter and simpler, and therefore will receive fewer points in the traditional game. This can be demotivating and upsetting. For the family member without MCI, in turn, it may be difficult to respond well in that moment. By accommodating these challenges through a new game design and supports for both players, this project aims to create a more enjoyable game and experience. 

To adapt the game successfully, input from players is critical at all stages of the design process. Fellows and their game partners will be interviewed but also invited to play different games, and to help tweak them, by actively co-designing the new game using tangible artifacts such as game boards, cards, tokens, dice, clay, markers, stickers, and paper to collaboratively annotate and create in the physical world. The adapted game will be turned into a digital version that fellows and their game partners get to experience and evaluate as well. Ultimately, a mobile application (app) will be built so the game can be enjoyed on a tablet or smart phone.

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 video-conferencing 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. This research builds on our earlier research on the acceptance and usability of such “Telewellness” technologies by older adults with mobility disabilities. We are proposing several small studies to develop and evaluate a protocol for remote instructors to deliver live, mind-body classes to small groups of people with MCI who participate in 2 settings: 1) onsite at MCIEP with co-located group and 2) at home using a tablet with remotely located group. We hope to develop a program that is easy to use, enjoyable, and beneficial to individuals 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. Specifically the project will: 1) measure gait speed using the ORCATECH monitoring system being installed in the homes of individuals enrolled in the MCI Empowerment Program (MCIEP); 2) document falls by using Apple Watch Series 5 devices worn by individuals enrolled in the study to detect falls in real-time and 3) obtain fellows self-report of falls risk using a short 12-item questionnaire used by the CDC; 4) measure fear of falling using a short 10-item survey to assess confidence in doing 10 activities in the home without falling; and 5) determine the impact that naturalist, in-home gait speed has on actual falls, self-report falls risk, and fear of falling. Continuous in-home monitoring represents a significant shift in falls prevention strategies by being able to assess risk and develop personalized intervention strategies before a fall occurs. The immediate output of the study will be a proposal for a multi-site clinical trial based on pilot data from this project. The long-term objective is to include home monitoring of gait speed as an integral part of the MCIEP and other MCI programs as an unobtrusive, low cost, quantifiable