As an occupational therapist, Elizabeth Rhodus, PhD, has worked closely with older Kentuckians facing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). She also has witnessed firsthand how poor health, limited resources, and high poverty rates have served as barriers to proper prevention and treatment.

In fact, Kentucky ranks 49th in the U.S. in supporting aging adults, according to America’s Health Rankings Report. And the state has two of the top 25 U.S. counties with the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) among African Americans – Franklin (No. 2) and Mercer (No. 16).

Dr. Rhodus is a rural Kentucky native who cares deeply about her state, and she is motivated to make a positive impact on these statistics. Now, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the UK College of Medicine and Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, she has established a new program aimed at advancing the health of senior citizens in Kentucky communities, particularly communities that are underserved.

Dr. Rhodus’ program is called Healthy Brain Aging across the Bluegrass. The program supports improved health and well-being through community engagement to ensure early identification and intervention for risk factors of ADRD. And the program has been established at an important time, as more than 1.2 million Kentucky adults – 26% of the state’s population – are projected to surpass the age of 65 by 2030.

“All of this is in hopes to help prevention and delay onset of symptoms, as well as to continue to build the community-based clinical trial enterprise at UK,” Dr. Rhodus said. “We’re looking at the resources we can provide and connect people with to improve their quality of life.”

This summer, Dr. Rhodus and her program were invited to join an event in Franklin County, Unity in the Community, organized by Rosby Glover, DMin, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church Frankfort. Health care professionals and 16 community health care organizations volunteered services at First Baptist Church to provide COVID-19 immunizations, educational resources, and screenings for blood glucose, memory, nutrition, and emotional health.

Dr. Rhodus said the church provided a familiar and accessible community setting to reach as many Kentuckians as possible.

More than 250 community members attended the event and were connected with vital resources. Meanwhile, nearly 50 COVID-19 testing kits were distributed. Dr. Rhodus’ team logged 50 balance screenings, 50 smoking cessation screenings, 41 diabetes screenings, 40 blood pressure screenings, 38 COVID-19 vaccines, and 25 memory screenings.

“It was really surprising because almost 50 percent of the screens across the board were abnormal, which really indicated the need,” Dr. Rhodus said.

Diabetes screenings presented greatest risk with 26 people in diabetic range and 12 without prior diagnosis.

Many attendees also reported lack of insurance and limited transportation preventing health care access. Community partners were able to provide information on Medicaid and reduced payment options for medical care, as well as refer people to free clinics.

With the success of the inaugural event, Dr. Rhodus is eager to help eliminate barriers to prevention and treatment of ADRD in Kentucky. Though the event is over, momentum has continued.

Through Healthy Brain Aging across the Bluegrass, First Baptist Church will partner with Sanders-Brown Center on Aging to offer in-house telehealth stations and semiannual health screenings for congregation members. And through a partnership with the Kentucky Department for Aging and Independent Living, the goal is to have a full-time nurse onsite at the Capital City Activity Center to assist with care navigation for seniors throughout Franklin County.

If you would like to learn more about these programs, please contact Dr. Rhodus at 859-257-5562 or