Michelle C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Michelle C. Carlson, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) and Associate Director at the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health. She is a faculty associate in the Hopkins Center for Population Aging and Health
and holds joint appointments in the JHSPH Department of Epidemiology and the School of Nursing. Dr. Carlson has more than 70 publications and serves on the editorial boards of premier aging and neuropsychology journals. She leads investigations to evaluate both environmental and pharmacological modifiers of cognitive and dementia risk through both observational research, in studies such as the Women’s Health and Aging Study (WHAS) II, and intervention research. She has served as principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins site of the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEMS) randomized, controlled trial, and as project leader in the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial (BECT) to evaluate program impact on older adults’ cognitive and independent functions. Within this trial, Dr. Carlson leads a nested Brain Health Study to evaluate activity-induced changes in brain regions that support executive functions and memory. To help inform public health practice, Dr. Carlson serves as president of the executive board of the nonprofit organization Intergenerational Community Services, and on the Maryland Baby Boomer Initiative Council, developed to address the needs of the baby-boomer population and to promote public policy initiatives to harness the wisdom of this population as a source of social capital to improve communities.
Promoting Healthy, Meaningful Aging Through Social InvolvementBuilding an Experience Corps
Pathways responsible for higher-order thinking in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), or executive center of the brain, remain vulnerable throughout life—during critical early-life developmental windows, when the PFC fully matures in the early 20s, and finally from declines associated with old age. At all ages, physical activity and PFC-navigated social connections are essential components to maintaining brain health. The Experience Corps, a community-based social-engagement program, partners seniors with local schools to promote purpose-driven involvement. Participating seniors have exhibited immediate short-term gains in brain regions vulnerable to aging, such as the PFC, indicating that people with the most to lose have the most to gain from environmental enrichment.