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Our Research Projects

Our Center nurtures and supports population-based research that identifies, quantifies, and addresses economic and care systems challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

About Our Work

Research Aims 

  • To generate new knowledge about ADRD care in our thematic areas of focus 

  • To advance the field of ADRD economics and health services research and its impact by nurturing emerging and established investigators, developing a cutting-edge research infrastructure, disseminating new knowledge, and forging linkages with policy and practice communities 

Research Themes 

  • Identifying and quantifying the range of ADRD care needs and related economic consequences 

  • Examining how the organization and financing of services affects accessibility, affordability, quality, and equity of ADRD care 

Racial disparities and caregiving are cross-cutting areas of interest to each theme 

2022 Research Projects


ADRD, Family Caregiving and Children's labor supply in Denmark. Onur Altindag, PhD, MA - Principal Investigator

A significant share of long-term care needs related to ADRD are met informally by family members, many of whom also work, and the increasing demand for care has potential to impede economic growth by reducing formal employment among the working-age population. A full accounting of the economic burden of ADRD must include the substantial spillovers in the form of reduced labor force participation and lost earnings of family caregivers. In this project, we will study the labor supply response to ADRD-related caregiving among adult men and women in Denmark and document the distribution of economic costs within families based on demographic characteristics. Our study will contribute to a greater understanding of the substantial, but often difficult to measure economic consequences that ADRD imposes on families and on national budgets pointing to targeted policies to mitigate these costs.


An Economic Approach to Mental Health and Cognitive Ability in the Elderly. Michael Darden, PhD - Principal Investigator

My research seeks to improve our understanding of the determinants of cognitive decline. I propose to use economic modeling to address two fundamental problems in this literature: dynamic selection and measurement error. Dynamic selection occurs when the composition of data changes over the age profile due to mortality. For example, dynamic selection biases the relationship between cigarette smoking and cognitive health because smokers experience excess mortality. Measurement error occurs when we use proxy measures (e.g., word recall scores) in the place of latent variables (e.g., cognitive health). Economists have developed statistical models for both dynamic selection and measurement error, but my research is the first to apply these methods to cognitive health and its determinants.


Care Partners and Support of Older Adults with Hearing Loss and Dementia. Danielle Powell, AuD, PhD - Principal Investigator

The purpose of this project is to understand the role of care partners in health care in the context of caring for an older adult with hearing loss and dementia. Caring for the growing number of older adults with dementia presents complex medical and communication challenges. These challenges may be compounded in the context of hearing loss where the additional burden of hearing loss among older adults with dementia may place added stressors on cognitive reserve, hinder communication further, and create additional emotional/social burdens on care partners. With this work, we aim to understand how care partners influence health management of older adults with hearing loss and/or dementia to inform future work to improve communication between older adults with dementia, care partners, and clinicians — critical for the health and social/emotional support of older adults and their care partners.


Health Care Service Utilization and Cost of Hip Fracture Care in Older Adults with Dementia. Lisa Reider, PhD, MHS, and Joe Levy, PhD - Co-Principal Investigators

Hip fractures are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in older adults and have a substantial impact on health care service utilization and cost. Each year over 300,000 older adults are hospitalized for hip fracture in the United States with an estimated annual direct cost of $17 billion dollars. Given the increase in older adults nationally, these numbers are expected to grow. The risk of hip fracture is nearly three times higher in older adults with dementia owing to higher rates of osteoporosis and a greater propensity for falls. Nearly 40% of older adults with hip fracture are cognitively impaired and are more likely to experience post-operative complications, longer lengths of hospital stay, hospital readmission and greater loss of independent function. This is a vulnerable group that require a higher treatment focus and more resources to meet their complex needs, though little is known about the incremental service utilization and cost associated with dementia for hip fracture. Therefore, we will compare health care service utilization and cost for hip fracture among older adults with versus without dementia using 20% Medicare FFS claims and will determine if dementia is predictive of higher cost independent of standard risk adjustment variables. This research has important implications for future bundled payment policy and the provision of value-based care for these individuals.

Past Research Projects

2021 Examining Emergency Department Length of Stay for Older Adults with Dementia. Stephanie Nothelle, MD– Principal Investigator

Older adults with dementia go to the Emergency Department (ED) more frequently than older adults without dementia. The ED is a potentially overstimulating environment for older adults with dementia given the background noise, large number of unfamiliar people and interrupted opportunities for sleep. Further, the ED is associated with higher costs of care for older adults with dementia compared to those without dementia, placing financial strain on patients, families and society. Given these risks, reducing the time spent in the ED, particularly from long extremes is important for older adults with dementia. In this study we will determine if length of stay in the ED is longer for older adults with dementia and if there are any facility characteristics associated with longer lengths of stay for older adults with dementia. These results will serve as important foundational information that could be used to target ED dementia care interventions. 

2021 Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and Later-Life Decisions and Outcomes: Exploring the Role of the Family and Human Capital. Nicholas W. Papageorge, PhD, MA– Principal Investigator

The purpose of this project is to use data on genetic propensities to develop ADRD to better understand the life course trajectories of people who may eventually develop ADRD, including their educational attainment, work life, income, financial decisions, and wealth accumulation. Of particular interest are individuals who are not diagnosed with ADRD or who do not exhibit significant cognitive decline according to standard measures (either because they lack access to medical care or, alternatively, because their condition is mild enough or their environment protective enough that cognitive decline falls under the radar). Using genetic data to better understand people who may not exhibit cognitive decline using standard measures or who are not diagnosed can help us to better understand the full extent of ADRD. Preliminary results suggest that many people with a genetic propensity for ADRD and who are not diagnosed and who do not exhibit strong cognitive decline according to standard measures still exhibit other negative outcomes (e.g., earlier retirement or less wealth) suggesting that the ways we currently diagnose or recognize illness are not sufficient to capture the full population in need of treatment. Findings will not only help us to recognize more potential patients, but may also help us to understand treatment. If some people with a genetic propensity for ADRD do not exhibit symptoms, it may be by chance, but may also be because policy-modifiable environmental factors are protective. Understanding what these factors are and why they are protecting could eventually be used to inform best treatment practices. 

2021 Use of high-cost care among Veterans with comorbid mental illness and Alzheimer’s and related dementia. Megan Shepherd-Banigan, PhD, MPH- Principal Investigator

We will examine 12-month health care use patterns among Veterans 65+ with pre-existing mental illness and a new Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) diagnosis. Specifically, we will examine the extent to which pre-existing mental illness is a risk factor for poor quality care for individuals with ADRD. The incidence of ADRD is projected to increase exponentially in the coming decades and mental illness is associated with a 2-fold higher risk for developing ADRD. Co-occurrence of ADRD and mental illness likely complicates health care delivery for this population, yet there is little understanding of the implications of this co-occurrence on service utilization patterns which drive Medicare costs. Findings from this study will provide information about the extent to which pre-existing mental illness impedes high quality care for older adults with ADRD, as evidenced by higher ED use, inpatient visits, and 30-day readmissions. This information will provide a foundation upon which to develop health system strategies that improve care coordination and quality for this understudied population. 

2021 Dementia and sensory impairment: Economic consequences for patients and caregivers. Varshini Varadaraj, MD, MPH – Principal Investigator

Dementia and sensory impairment are salient features of aging that share common risk factors, and sensory impairment is itself a risk factor for cognitive decline. These commonly co-occurring conditions may be associated with impairment in financial capacity, putting older adults at risk for financial loss and fund mismanagement. In addition, caring for older adults with chronic conditions may be associated with financial difficulties among caregivers. Financial capacity is central to older adults’ independence and well-being, and their caregivers’ welfare and capacity for caregiving. Therefore, a deeper understanding of the interplay between dementia and sensory impairment and the impact of the resultant cumulative risk on financial wellbeing of older adults and their caregivers is required. This project aims to examine the economic impact (income, economic wellbeing, financial literacy) of having co-occurring dementia and sensory impairment (vision and hearing impairments) on older adults, and their family caregivers, using nationally representative data. The resulting findings will highlight gaps and opportunities for the development of supportive services and policies to help older adults with financial management. 

2020 Case-identification of persons with Alzheimer's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease Related Dementia: A methods study to compare diagnoses in structured and unstructured electronic health record data. Hadi Kharrazi, MD, PhD – Principal Investigator

Alzheimer’s Disease Related Dementia (ADRD) is poorly coded in electronic health records (EHRs). To address this gap, this study aims to assess the reliability of ADRD coding in EHRs, and then compare the value of unstructured EHR data in identifying patients with ADRD. Results of this study can enhance our understanding of EHR’s data value in accurately identifying ADRD patients. Study conclusions may improve the use of EHRs to assess patient eligibility in clinical trials and denominator selection for health services research projects targeting the older adults. 

2020 Race Differences in Supportive Service Utilization by White and Black Caregivers of Persons with ADRD. Chanee Fabius, PhD, MA – Principal Investigator

The purpose of this project is to determine whether the use of supportive services varies by race for black and white caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). Persistent health disparities experienced by Black persons living with dementia (PLWD) likely place an added demand on family and unpaid caregivers. There is limited understanding of supportive services accessed by caregivers of PLWD and how utilization may vary by caregiver and care recipient characteristics, particularly across race groups. More information is needed to address the needs of this growing population, inform the design of relevant and effective programs and practices, and increase the capacity of providers and policymakers to serve diverse groups of people impacted by ADRD. Findings from this pilot will provide important information about the current landscape of support for racially diverse ADRD caregivers and better inform strategies to help persons with ADRD and their family and unpaid caregivers. 

2020 Quantifying Potentially Avoidable Financial Losses Due to Dementia Lauren Nicholas, PhD – Principal Investigator

Dementia represents a threat to retirement security for patients and families because characteristic brain changes make it difficult to remember routine financial characteristics and alter risk perception, increasing susceptibility to fraud and exploitation. Yet little is known about the prevalence and magnitude of financial losses due to dementia and the potential unmet need for assistance with financial management among persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). With no public and/or private sector policies to protect the financial interests of persons with ADRD, there is an urgent need to understand the magnitude of the issue and develop methods to monitor incidence over time so that effective policies can be developed. This pilot project will collect new survey data to assess the prevalence and magnitude of financial losses associated with cognitive impairment and to assess the demographic characteristics of patients and families affected by these losses. 

2020 Assessing State Variability in Measures of Dementia Prevalence. Emmanuel Drabo, PhD – Principal Investigator

The purpose of this pilot study is to contribute new and more robust estimates of state-level measures of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) prevalence and potential variability in prevalence from multiple national datasets (American Community Survey, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, National Health Interview Survey, and Medicare Claims) with both self-reported measures and diagnosed ADRD. The evidence generated by this research will directly support Drabo’s planned career development application to NIA around ADRD diagnosis and care burden. The anticipated outcome from this proposed training plan and research agenda is to contribute stronger and more robust information regarding state-level estimates of ADRD prevalence to set the stage for further work to quantify ADRD burden, and to permit dementia-related research in various rich, less restrictive, and relatively user-friendly data sources. 

2020 Variation in Medicare Home Health Costs Associated with Patient Cognitive Impairment. Julia Burgdorf, PhD – Principal Investigator

Older adults with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) have uniquely challenging care needs, large comorbidity burdens, and are heavy users of health care; they comprise an estimated one-third of the patient population in Medicare-funded home health care. Current risk-adjustment models for Medicare home health reimbursement fail to account for whether a patient has ADRD. This omission has the potential to threaten access to care for this vulnerable subpopulation. Using linked survey, patient assessment, and claims data, this pilot will provide the first evidence regarding the relationship between patient cognitive impairment and costs of care during Medicare-funded home health care. Findings will offer a better understanding of the resources needed to provide skilled care at home for older adults with ADRD and may inform future revisions to the Medicare home health reimbursement model.

Learn About Our Pilot Grants

Each year, we offer a number of one-year pilot grants ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 to fund research projects that advance our mission.

HEADS Remote Data Enclave

The HEADS Remote Data Enclave Core (RDEC) is the “lab” for the HEADS Center, supporting access to ADRD-relevant datasets in various locations. It also includes its own high-capacity computing environment known as the Health Analytics Research Platform (HARP), offering secure and remote access. The HARP provides data services to HEADS-affiliated and HBHI-affiliated investigators to facilitate cross-university research collaborations advancing HBHI’s strategic pillars. Learn More