Faculty & Staff


Donna Cohen, PhD

Donna Cohen, PhD

Professor Emeritus

Phone: (813) 974-4665

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Donna Cohen, Ph.D. is a professor Emeritus in the Department of Child & Family Studies (CFS), College of Behavioral & Community Sciences (CBCS), University of South Florida (USF), Tampa, Florida (2011-present). She was hired at USF in 1992 as Professor and Chair of the Department of Aging & Mental Health (AMH), served as Chair until 1997, and remained as a professor in AMH until she transferred to CFS. Dr. Cohen is internationally recognized for her scientific, clinical, instructional, policy, and humanistic contributions in areas of human development and aging, family caregiving across the lifespan, geriatric mental health, hospital- and community-based care across the long term care continuum, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and lethal violence across the lifespan. Dr. Cohen has published 10 books and 190 articles and book chapters. Her textbook, An Integrated Textbook of Geriatric Mental Health, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, is regarded as one of the most comprehensive texts in the field. Her forthcoming book, Family Caregivers Who Kill, should be published in 2016.

Dr. Cohen has a long track record of service on many national scientific, medical, and technical advisory boards and committees, such as the National Academy of Sciences, NIH study sections, NIA Board of Scientific Counselors, Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, and the American Association of Suicidology.

Dr. Cohen’s contributions have established guidelines and standards of health care practices in geriatric mental health, and she is a well-known advocate for policy reform at the national and state level. Dr. Cohen has testified in the U.S. Congress on health care, long term care, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and suicide and homicide-suicide, age discrimination, and veteran’s affairs. She has participated in many policy forums, including Medicare reform, Medicare fraud and abuse, violent deaths, elder justice, long term care, and family caregiving.  From 1988-1992 Dr. Cohen headed a national effort to develop a plan for a 1991 White House Conference on Aging, which was finally held in 1995.

Dr. Cohen is a pioneer in research on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and she is one of the original founders of the national Alzheimer’s Association. Her early work in Seattle established one of the earliest clinical research diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease, established a link between changes in the immune system and cognitive impairment, and she was the first to discover that maternal age is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Cohen was also the first to study the subjective experience of people with dementia, and this emphasis on the illness led to an innovative conceptual framework for intervention and counseling.

Dr. Cohen was one of the first investigators to identify the important role of family members for the well-being of persons with Alzheimer’s disease as well as the psychiatric consequences of caregiving for older spouses and adult caregivers.  She has now expanded her research to study youth caregivers under age 18 and emerging young adults 18-24 years, populations who provide substantial care but whose efforts are not well recognized.

Dr. Cohen is a national and international authority on violent deaths, including homicide-suicide, suicide, and homicide, across the lifespan.  She was the first to describe the epidemiology, patterns and clinical characteristics of homicide-suicides in older populations.  Her work has been incorporated into educational programs for law enforcement officers, judges, and lawyers as well as professionals in the aging, long term care, health care, forensic, threat assessment, crisis intervention, public health, and mental health networks.

Dr. Cohen conducted the first national study of potentially violent persons residing in long term care facilities, i.e., residents with dementia as well as registered sex offenders and other violent predators on probation or parole, convicted felons, and persons with criminal backgrounds who are court-ordered admissions. She surveyed legislation and non-law policies in the fifty states and the District of Columbia to make recommendations for practice and policy.

Dr. Cohen is one of the foremost authorities on how older persons and family member cope with aging and chronic illness, and she has created a number of innovative programs to empower older persons and their families to work effectively with health care professionals in acute and long term care settings.  Dr. Cohen helped establish the first inpatient program for patients with Alzheimer’s disease as well as the first outpatient geriatric family services clinic for evaluation and treatment.  These were the prototypes for dementia special care units and memory disorder clinics throughout the country.

Dr. Cohen has been a pioneer in the development of training programs for mental health professionals.  She helped to establish one of the country’s first postdoctoral fellowship programs in geriatric psychiatry and psychology at the University of Washington, and at Albert Einstein she created one of the first programs integrating geriatric psychiatry into all four years of the residency program. 

Dr. Cohen currently is a member of the CBCS committee to establish a Ph.D. in Behavioral & Community Sciences. She chaired the faculty committee that established the Ph.D. in Aging Studies at USF, approved by the Florida Board of Regents in July 1994. Dr. Cohen has also been dedicated to undergraduate instruction in the USF Honors College for 22 years, teaching courses and seminars in aging, ethics, caregiving, and campus dangers as well as creating/teaching an innovative Honors thesis seminar.

Dr. Cohen’s work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in more than 30 age discrimination cases since 1976 has led to many important legal decisions upholding the rights of older police, firefighters, and pilots.  Of special note are Criswell et al vs. Western Airlines and EEOC vs. United Airlines.  Both concerned the rights of pilots age 60 to down bid to the flight engineer’s position, and the latter was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dr. Cohen maintains a high media profile educating the public about a variety of aging issues. She values quality television, magazine, and newspaper coverage of aging as a critical avenue for public education. Dr. Cohen has appeared many times on NBC’s Today Show, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, ABC’s 20/20 and Good Morning America, CNN, C-Span, NPR, and other programs.