Special/Signature Issues » Top 40 Under 40

Annie Rhodes, 32

Director, Virginia Memory Project; research scientist, Virginia Center on Aging


When she was only 16, Annie Rhodes began a job as a direct care worker in assisted living in Castle Rock, Colorado. She loved the work, but quickly realized that our systems of aging “needed radical transformation,” as she puts it.

This epiphany has guided her work in the aging field ever since, as she has worked tirelessly to merge advocacy and data-driven approaches.

Rhodes moved here in 2017 to attend VCU and become a gerontologist as well as to pursue a doctorate in health science. She began working at the Virginia Center on Aging just before the pandemic. Over the last year, she started one of only four Alzheimer’s [and related dementias] disease registries backed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the nation, partnering with the CDC, VCU, and the Virginia Department of Health. Known as the Virginia Memory Project, it launched in June 2022.

Put simply, the project’s intentions are to collect better information for Virginia, including hotspots and projecting trends. “We believe 40% of cases of dementia are preventable,” she says. “But we just don’t have good data.”

So far, she says it’s been phenomenal to use the power of data to advocate for resources and better transparency in Virginia. “Especially knowing there are health equity concerns that disproportionally impact people of color,” she says. Having initially received a shoestring budget, she is proud to report that her funding was renewed with an 800% increase after the first year, and she expects it to go up even more this year.

She’s also been trying to align the workforce’s needs with those of older adults being served in institutional and home-based settings to further common cause: We all age, as she points out, “We need to be honest about the gaps in our systems.”

Her Top 40 nomination form labeled her a “nursing home abolitionist and emancipatory gerontologist.” She explains that she has watched in Virginia as people with Alzheimer’s slept on the streets with nowhere for her to refer them; it’s a challenge that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, with older adults increasingly isolated. “The pandemic killed 300,000 nursing home residents,” she says.

“And for every two nursing home residents that died from COVID, another one died from neglect.” Of course, this doesn’t mean Rhodes wants to do away with all nursing homes. She still wants a high level of care, but with more transparency. Or as she puts it: “I don’t want the system that puts profit over care to exist.”