About Us

This research is funded by the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services Civil Monetary Penalty Fund. Support provided by the Virginia Center on Aging (Alzheimers and Related Diseases Award Fund and the Geriatric Training and Education Fund) and 4-VA. 

The Mason Music & Memory Team

Emily S. Ihara is co-Principal Investigator for the Mason Music and Memory Initiative and Associate Professor and the Interim Chair of the Department of Social Work. Dr. Ihara’s research interests focus on interventions, policies, and system changes necessary to eliminate health inequities for vulnerable populations across the life course. Her current research assesses the effectiveness of community-based and creative arts interventions on mood, agitation, and behavioral difficulties among older individuals living with dementia, decision-making among caregivers, and the social environmental factors that prevent underserved populations from achieving optimal health outcomes. Dr. Ihara is a graduate of UC Berkeley (A.B.), UCLA (M.S.W.), and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University (Ph.D., M.A.). She received Fellow status of the Gerontological Society of America in 2018.


Megumi Inoue is Principal Investigator for the Mason Music and Memory Initiative and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work. Her research focuses on health and aging, and she is particularly interested in end-of-life issues and patients’ autonomy in health care settings. Dr. Inoue’s recent research projects include examining factors associated with the behavior of sharing advance directives with one’s family and health care providers, developing advance care planning training with a focus on cultural competency for staff in long-term care facilities, and exploring the effects of culturally sensitive companions for institutionalized older adults. Dr. Inoue brings her extensive clinical experience as a social worker and a registered nurse to her understanding of these research areas. She received her Ph.D. from Boston College (Graduate School of Social Work), MSW from Washington University in St. Louis (Brown School of Social Work), BSW from Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare in Japan (Department of Medical Social Welfare), and ADN from Kyushu University in Japan (College of Medical Technology Department of Nursing).


Cathy Tompkins is co-Principal Investigator for the Mason Music and Memory Initiative and the Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Associate Professor in the Social Work Department. She is interested in developing new programs for undergraduate students and developing innovations in distance education. Dr. Tompkins has been pursuing two research tracks since arriving at Mason: 1) The need for interventions for individuals with dementia and their caregivers and 2) an exploration of the potential caregiving relationship that exists between grandparents and grandchildren residing within grandparent-headed households. She reviews manuscripts for several journals, has affiliations with several state and national organizations, and participates on advisory boards for two community-based agencies.  Prior to joining Mason, Dr. Tompkins served as Director of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) and as the Program Coordinator for the John A. Hartford funded project, Strengthening Aging and Gerontological Education in Social Work (SAGE-SW).

Christi Clark is the Programming Consultant for Harpeth Consultant Advisory Group.  Christi has served in many different capacities in the long-term care industry: executive and regional level roles in both operations and sales and marketing. Christi shifted her focus towards working with those living with a diagnosis of memory impairment and their caregivers.  Christi worked to develop community partnerships, develop multi-stage dementia programming, engagement models, and early-stage MCI programs for individuals and their care partners. Christi has also developed sales and marketing plans for organizations looking to increase their referral sources and hone in on their marketing strategies. With the ever-changing landscape of home and community-based care models, and dementia care, Christi works to stay ahead of the curve, so she can work with individuals and organizations on innovative and person-centered model development and implementation.


Shannon Layman is the Project Coordinator for the Mason Music and Memory Initiative. She received her Ph.D. in Cognition and Neuroscience with a specialization in Music Cognition from the University of Texas at Dallas. Her research focused on understanding how we process short clips of familiar and unfamiliar mainstream popular songs. Prior to moving to Virginia Dr. Layman was an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington since 2013. She received nominations for numerous teaching awards and received the College of Science Teaching Excellence award in 2019. In 2018 she helped found the Musical Memory Singers, a 501(c)3 community chorus for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their care partners, community members, and UT Arlington students in Dr. Layman’s Adulthood and Aging course. The chorus members continue to joyfully sing.


George Mason University, College of Health and Human Services, Department of Social Work

The mission of the George Mason Department of Social Work is to conduct applied social science research that aims to solve personal and social problems and investigates systemic inequities in power and unequal access to resources. This mission is fulfilled by seeking to identify and develop effective interventions based on scientific theory; engaging in public service that cultivates community partnerships, enhances capacity, and provides technical expertise to human service organizations caring for diverse local, national and global communities.


Advisory Board

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen, MSW, is founder & CEO for Right to Music, an advocation group for systemic, ubiquitous use of personal music by families and health care professionals and their systems to improve both quality of life and quality of care. Additionally, he is founder and former executive director of Music & Memory, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of personalized music to improve the lives of the elderly and infirm. The therapeutic outcomes of his work are portrayed in the documentary, “Alive Inside,” which won the 2014 Sundance Audience Award.  Music & Memory operates in 4,500 long-term care homes, hospices, home care programs and hospitals across North America and Europe.  He has spent 20 years in technology companies, has served as a consultant/trainer for the US Department of Education, and as an administrator of volunteer and community service programs for a consortium of 17 colleges and universities in New York.


Kevin Coughlin has spent the last 27 years in the private and public sector working in the assisted living and skilled nursing arena as an operator, a regulator, and a public funder. Mr. Coughlin currently is a Policy Initiatives Advisor-Executive in the Wisconsin Division of Medicaid Services. Mr. Coughlin has been a speaker at numerous state and national conferences presenting on the subject of assisted living regulatory reform, long-term care quality improvement, Music & Memory, and Workforce improvement.

In 2007 Mr. Coughlin was the Recipient of the “Public Official of the Year” by Governing Magazine (http://www.governing.com/poy/Kevin-Coughlin.html ) for collaborating with key stakeholders and reforming Wisconsin’s assisted living regulatory process by rewarding assisted living communities striving for excellence.  Mr. Coughlin launched a statewide Music and Memory program in Wisconsin through four phases from 2013-2018.  https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/music-memory/index.htm


Adrienne Johnson is a leader in Virginia’s aging network, having joined the VirginiaNavigator team in 2004 and holding various aging-related positions in her career.  She is Executive Director of VirginiaNavigator (www.VirginiaNavigator.org), an award-winning statewide Virginia public/private partnership non-profit that helps seniors, adults with disabilities, Veterans and their families and caregivers find information and vital community-based programs and services across Virginia via a family of websites:





As Executive Director, Adrienne works in partnership with the public, non-profit, and private sectors and is responsible for the development, marketing, board oversight and operational management of VirginiaNavigator. Adrienne earned her Master’s degree in Gerontology with a concentration in Health Administration from the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Connecticut. She serves on the board of the Virginia Quality Healthcare Network (VQHN); the VGEC Plenary Committee and the VCoA Advisory Committee as well as a host of other coalitions and committees serving the aging, disability, and Veterans communities throughout Virginia.


Ellen Phipps, CTRS, MSG, Gerontologist, is the Executive Director of Aging Together.  Previously, she served as interim President & CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, Central & Western Virginia Chapter where she has served for the past 18 years, and, author of Connections: Engagement in Life for Persons with Dementia, A Complete Activities Guide. She received her Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation from the University of Colorado, at Boulder, and, a Master of Science degree in Gerontology from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she serves as adjunct faculty. Before joining the Alzheimer’s Association, Ellen served as Director of Adult Day Centers both in Charlottesville, VA and Somerset, England providing creative and innovative approaches to care.


Denise Scruggs, ADC/EDU/MC, CADDCT, CDP, CDSGF is Director of the Beard Center on Aging at the University of Lynchburg and Vice President for the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. She has over thirty years of experience working in the field of dementia care, with her experience spanning almost all levels of care, including managing a small memory care unit in a continuing retirement community. In addition, she was involved in caregiving with two family members diagnosed with dementia. Her experience has included social work, activities, education, and consulting.

Denise is a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Certified Dementia Support Group Facilitator (CDSGF), and a Certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer (CADDCT).

Denise also serves as a columnist for the Senior News Magazine- Lifestyles of the Active 50 Plus, a Board Member for the Southern Gerontological Society, and a Board member for the Bedford Community Health Foundation, as well as an Advisory Council member for the Lindsay Institute for Innovations in Caregiving.

Denise holds a Bachelor’s degree in social work and a Master of Science from Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a Master of Arts from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.   In 2015, she was named an Honorary Alumni of Lynchburg College and in 2019, she was named a Victor W. Marshall Fellow in Applied Gerontology.


 Joan S. Thomas, LCSW, FACHE, MBA, CMC, LNHA
Chief Clinical Officer for Behavioral Health
Director of Community Relations Administrator – The District Home Assisted Living.  Ms. Thomas is responsible for the philosophy of behavioral healthcare that is provided across the campus of Birmingham Green. As Chief Clinical Officer for Behavior Health, her duties include providing direction and support to over six (6) Social Workers on campus as well as oversight of six (6) mental health interns. She oversees the management of the Community Relations Program and is engaged in building and maintaining relationships with the broader community.

Since 2010 Joan has served as Administrator for the District Home Assisted Living. Her areas of expertise include post-acute delivery systems, end-of-life planning, mental health, emergency case management, and person-centered care practices. She is a
member of the National Association of Social Workers, LeadingAge Virginia, the Virginia Health Care Association and she is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). Joan served as a Board Member for NASW (National Association of Social Workers) and was named 2015 Assisted Living Administrator of the Year by the Virginia Health Care Association and VCAL. She currently sits on the Board for LeadingAge Virginia and The Fellowship Foundation. Joan holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from George Mason University along with a Masters Degree in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Virginia. In addition, she holds an MBA from the Jack Welch Management Institute. Prior to her position at Birmingham Green, Joan was with Kaiser Permanente.


Dr. Bert Waters serves as Associate Director for the Virginia Center on Aging and the Virginia Geriatric Education Center’s Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP). Bert is the Principal Investigator for the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Nursing Home ECHO COVID Action Network, an award from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. He serves as Administrator for the statewide Geriatric Training and Education Initiative at the Virginia Center on Aging. Bert’s research interests include geriatric workforce development, health promotion, culture change in long-term care, and basic needs insecurity. Bert has served on numerous Boards and Executive Committees over the years in the public and nonprofit sectors. He has contributed to a leadership role for several regional and statewide aging advocacy coalitions. He currently serves as Treasurer and Executive Committee Member for the National Association for Geriatric Education. Bert received a Ph.D. in Health-Related Sciences at VCU’s College of Health Professions with an emphasis in Gerontology. He has an appointment in the Department of Gerontology and has a BS in Economics, and an MS in Gerontology, with a concentration in Public Administration.