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$10M grant fuels Emory program for those with mild cognitive impairment, care partners
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Amy Rodriguez, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine

The James M. Cox Foundation has awarded a $10 million grant over four years to the Charlie and Harriet Shaffer Cognitive Empowerment Program (CEP), a cornerstone initiative of the Goizueta Institute at Emory Brain Health. This funding, part of an ongoing commitment, aims to significantly expand the impact of the CEP's innovative efforts to improve the lives of individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and their care partners. 

Often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, MCI is a distinct, early decline in memory and the ability to think. The CEP employs unique strategies to empower participants through personalized lifestyle programs, cutting-edge technologies and purposefully-designed physical environments. It functions as a dynamic living lab, addressing key aspects such as physical activity, cognition, functional independence, social engagement, wellbeing, nutrition and inclusion in research.

In 2018, James M. Cox Foundation and Cox Enterprises contributed $23.7 million to launch the CEP, offering Phase I financial support in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology. Located on Emory's Executive Park campus, the CEP features innovative spaces designed to serve as a social hub for patients and families and accommodate a wide range of novel and evidence-based interventions.

“We are profoundly honored and grateful to the Cox Foundation for their unwavering support and visionary investment in the Shaffer Cognitive Empowerment Program. This critical funding for Phase II not only validates the innovative strides we've made thus far but propels us into a new realm of possibilities,” says Allan Levey, MD, PhD, founding director of CEP and the Goizueta Institute at Emory Brain Health and professor of neurology in the Emory University School of Medicine.

“There is tremendous interest in the potential role of lifestyle modification to mitigate risk of progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease yet few programs like CEP designed to rigorously measure and study different behaviors,” says Levey.  

Levey believes the program’s new director, Amy Rodriguez, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine, is poised to capably lead the interdisciplinary CEP team into this next phase of development, advancing efforts to streamline program delivery, increase capacity and extend the program’s reach across geographic, racial, cultural, economic and other diverse domains. 

"This new funding is a transformative opportunity for the Shaffer Cognitive Empowerment Program to further address the critical gap in the health care ecosystem with its unique infrastructure that enhances the well-being of individuals and families throughout their MCI journey," says Rodriguez. "I am honored to lead the program into this next phase and am confident that, with the support of the Cox Foundation, we can continue to pioneer cutting-edge approaches in chronic care management, foster diversity and contribute meaningfully to the broader landscape of cognitive health."

Some of the strategic objectives of Phase II include:

Program Scaling: Phase II aims to expand partnerships, increase diversity, refine lifestyle interventions and develop lifestyle biomarkers. The overarching goal is to position the CEP as a national and international model for chronic care management.

Research Initiatives: With a more extensive and diverse member population, the CEP will lead research on lifestyle interventions and biomarkers to slow disease progression. Research focused on CEP interventions to improve sleep, physical activity, diet and social engagement will determine how these non-pharmacological strategies can be used to slow the progression of MCI and delay the onset of dementia. Implementation research will be key to integrating and scaling this first-of-its-kind program into routine care. 

Enhanced Member Experience: The CEP consistently earns high satisfaction, with members and care partners consistently reporting the value of community with others facing MCI and the opportunity to engage in empowering interventions that enhance their everyday lives. Phase II will preserve program quality while expanding in-person services and increasing access to programming statewide through community partnerships and virtual delivery.

Community Partnerships: To meet increased membership needs and promote sustainability, the CEP will establish new relationships and leverage existing ones with Georgia Memory Net, Emory’s Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and others.

Technological Advancements: Building on successful home-based technologies and the MyCEP app, Phase II will leverage ongoing efforts by Georgia Tech and the Goizueta Institute at Emory Brain Health to enhance virtual program delivery and collect meaningful data to inform member care planning.

Currently, CEP participants are patients and families in the Emory Brain Health Center’s Cognitive Neurology Clinic who receive a diagnosis of MCI due to presumed Alzheimer’s disease or other related condition. During Phase II, the CEP will partner with Georgia Memory Net's memory assessment clinics across the state to increase and diversify CEP membership.

The funding cycle for this Phase II grant is set to last until late 2026. For more information on the CEP, please click here.

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