Georgia Tech and Emory University Partner on Mild Cognitive Impairment Program
By Alyson Powell and Malrey Head
Georgia Institute of Technology is joining Emory University’s Brain Health Center in launching an innovative research and therapy program for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. The James M. Cox Foundation and Cox Enterprises, Inc. are supporting the new MCI Empowerment Program with a $23.7 million gift.
MCI is a distinct, early decline in cognition, affecting up to 20 percent of Americans over age 64. This age group is expected double to 88.5 million by the year 2050 and is the fastest growing population in the Atlanta metropolitan area, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures.
Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology (IPaT), SimTigrate Design Lab in the College of Design, and other programs and labs across campus have received more than $7 million to test and refine new technologies and innovations in built environments that promote long-term health and independence.
A first-of-its-kind facility in Executive Park will house the MCI Empowerment Program and will provide innovative lighting, sound, outdoor spaces, and other best practices in architecture and design to support therapeutic programming in the space, including classes, assessments, counseling, lectures, and technology use and training. The space will be a therapeutic living lab, and continuously improved to meet changing needs as the program evolves.
Georgia Tech will provide three key strengths that complement Emory’s therapeutic expertise:
Elizabeth Mynatt, executive director of the Institute for People and Technology and distinguished professor in the College of Computing will direct the technology core. This core will be responsible for technologies such as sensors, wearables, and platforms that will collect data, conduct analytics, and make sense of that data to provide feedback to fellows and care partners.
“Innovations in design, sensing, and analytics will allow us to create novel mobile and home technologies to empower individuals with MCI and their caregivers and to understand the daily experience of MCI,” Mynatt said.
The built environment core, led by Craig Zimring, director of the SimTigrate Design Lab and a professor in the School of Architecture, will research how innovative design can improve cognition, mood, and functioning for people with MCI and will test and disseminate these findings. The built environment core will lead the design of the empowerment center in Executive Park and will develop solutions for therapeutic spaces and for home settings.
“It is exciting to help develop and collaborate in a meaningful way on brain health, which is an important priority for the Atlanta region, and for Georgia Tech and Emory,” said Zimring, a founder and developer of the field of evidence-based design of healthcare environments.
Jennifer DuBose, associate director of SimTigrate and principal research associate in the College of Design, will lead the innovation accelerator, working across the three cores and engaging people with MCI, students, researchers, and industry to learn best practices and create, test, and implement tailored solutions.
The focus of the innovation accelerator is to expedite MCI research and break down barriers to innovation and collaboration by providing resources and expertise and connecting with other resources in the Atlanta community. Annual seed grants will promote innovation in brain health. Collaborators in the innovator accelerator will capitalize on current MCI research to improve the lives of people with MCI.
For DuBose, her work has special significance. She has a family history of Alzheimer’s and said it’s important to direct a program that will engage with people with MCI as co-designers.
“Innovation in healthcare often takes too long to go from the bench to the bedside. We have the opportunity to break down some of the barriers that exist between research and therapy and between departments and institutions. This is an opportunity to more quickly make a difference in people’s lives,” DuBose said. “Time is a luxury people with MCI don’t have. MCI will rapidly impact our society and we need to address as quickly as we can.”
She continued, “We also want to honor and respect what people with MCI have to offer and they will be as fully engaged in the innovation as they want to be.”
Learn more about Emory Health Sciences and the James. M. Cox Foundation at their websites.