Brown leads collaboration benefitting older adults with cognitive decline

A recently launched pilot project to screen for cognitive decline as part of routine community health services currently offered to older adults is expected to demonstrate the benefits of early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias (AD/D). One major benefit is the potential of keeping Syracuse-area adults aged 65 and older healthy and safe in their homes for as long as possible.

A $51,110 grant was awarded by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York for the project, “Early Identification of Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults Living at Home.” The study focuses on adults aged 65+ who are served by select community programs in Syracuse neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty and high proportions of older adults. Led by Dr. Maria T. Brown, assistant research professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work and faculty associate in Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute (ASI), project partners include ASI, the Onondaga County Office for Aging, SUNY Upstate’s Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, Syracuse Community Connections, and the Central New York Citizens Aging Research and Action Network (CNY-CAN).

“We are very excited about this project since it will give us the opportunity to identify those who may have an early dementia before they are in a crisis situation. We know that older African Americans often do not seek medical care until their health problems are more advanced, and at that point, they may be tougher to treat. Early identification of a serious memory problem will allow us to develop a care plan to help the older adult remain independent and enjoy a high quality of life for as long as possible,” says Dr. Sharon Brangman, Distinguished Service Professor, Inaugural Chair, Department of Geriatrics, Director, Nappi Longevity Institute, and Director, Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Early detection of AD/D often provides opportunities for earlier interventions and treatments, clinical trial participation, improved access to medical care and support services, opportunities for still-capable older adults experiencing cognitive decline to make financial, legal, and care plans consistent with their preferences, and potentially delayed need for nursing home placement.

Through a collaboration of service providers, the pilot will integrate the evidence-based and publicly available Mini-Cog™ screening tool, a simple, five-minute assessment validated to increase the detection of cognitive issues. This new project builds on Dr. Brown’s earlier work with the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York. The work included recommendations that policy makers and practitioners use the model to improve data collection about at-risk populations, as well as to guide development and measurement of strategies to address those risks and delay the onset of frailty.

The pilot will be evaluated to determine its effectiveness in increasing early detection and access for comprehensive cognitive evaluation while minimizing the burden to the service providers conducting in-home screenings. Results will determine the effectiveness of the program for a more geographically and demographically diverse population regionally and contribute to the evidence base about the effectiveness of home-based cognition screening.

“We are thrilled that the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York has chosen to fund this pilot project, which enables us to reach older adults who might not otherwise be diagnosed or receive needed supports,” says Dr. Brown. “We are fortunate to be partnering with agencies that are embedded in the local community and familiar with the issues faced by older African Americans in that community, and to have members of the community whose lives have been touched by dementia or dementia caregiving on our project team.”

The Health Foundation for Western and Central New York is an independent private foundation whose mission is to improve the health and health care of the people of western and central New York. It invests in, and partners with, organizations and communities to spark lasting positive change in health and health care for underserved populations, including older adults and children ages birth to five impacted by poverty. To learn more about the Health Foundation, its work, and the many other ways it is involved in the communities it serves, visit the Health Foundation’s website at

Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute is a collaborative initiative of the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs and the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Its mission is to coordinate and promote aging-related research, training, and outreach at Syracuse University. To learn more about ASI, visit the Institute’s website.