Jessica Finlay
Assistant Professor of Geography • Neighborhoods, aging, health and well-being; health geography and social epidemiology; qualitative and mixed methods • Faculty Fellow, Institute of Behavioral Science • Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 2018
Human Geography • Environment-Society

Research Interests 

I am a health geographer and environmental gerontologist who uses qualitative and mixed methods to investigate how built, social, and natural environments affect health, aging, and quality of mid to later life. I focus particularly on neighborhood determinants of cognitive aging and physically, socially, and intellectually active aging in place. The goal of my research is to inform upstream health promotion and policy strategies to address socio-geographic determinants of health across the life course, particularly among underserved communities. 

My early research identified salient neighborhood features (e.g., accessible housing, transportation, services, and ‘third places’ outside of home and work) to support racially and socioeconomically diverse aging adults. I advocated for policy to support older adults, particularly those who are unhoused, low-income, isolated, disabled, and aging in underserved and vulnerable communities. One of the greatest fears expressed by older adults in my dissertation research inspired my postdoctoral and current research: Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). I developed a new concept of Cognability and public mapping tool to capture how supportive an area is to cognitive aging through neighborhood services, amenities, and hazards. My research utilizes large national datasets including the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study and Health and Retirement Study (HRS). 

Additionally, I have co-led the COVID-19 Coping Study since March 2020. This mixed-methods study investigates physical, mental, social, and cognitive health and well-being among US adults aged 55 and older since the pandemic onset. I help develop and advance the National Neighborhood Data Archive (NaNDA), a public mapping resource that curates national geospatial data relevant to public health over time.

Current Research 

My current research projects include:

  • Aging in place since the COVID-19 pandemic onset: A study of neighborhoods and cognitive health among older Americans
  • Life Course Cognability: Neighborhoods and Health at All Ages Research Study 
  • COVID-19 Coping Study
  • Marshall Fire Community Health Research Study
  • National Neighborhood Data Archive 

More Info 

I grew up in Vancouver (Canada) and completed my Bachelor's degrees in Geography and Education at Queen's University (Canada). I pursued a Master's and PhD in Geography and Gerontology (Public Health) from the University of Minnesota. Prior to becoming an Assistant Professor at CU Boulder, I was a NIH-funded postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (2018-2023).

When not at my desk, I'm often chasing after my two small children, running/biking/skiing in the Colorado mountains, or reading a book.

Recent Courses Taught Fall 2023 GEOG 3692: Introduction to Global Public Health

Honors and Awards 

Recent Grants and Fellowships:

  • 2023-2024: University of Minnesota Life Course Center for the Demography and Economics of Aging Pilot Grant (NIH/NIA P30AG066613, $36,133) Co-Primary Investigator: “Place-Based Determinants of Cognitive Aging Across the Life Course.”
  • 2023-2024: University of Colorado Population Center Seed Grant (NIH/NICHD P2CHD066613, $20,000) Co-Primary Investigator: “Toxic homes? A mixed-methods study of Marshall Fire health impacts.”
  • 2022-2027: National Institute on Aging Pathway to Independence Award (1K99AG075152-01, $1,014,840): “Aging in Place Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic Onset: A Study of Neighborhoods and Cognitive Health Among Older Americans.”
  • 2022-2027: National Institute of Nursing Research (NIH/NINR U01NR020556) Co-Investigator: “A National Neighborhood Data Resource to Understand Inequities in the Health and Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 in the United States.” 
  • 2021-2023: Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Early Career Investigator Mentorship Program (NIH/NIA P30AG072931, Berger Endowment G102865/321033, $25,000).
  • 2020-2022: National Institute on Aging Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (NIH/NIA F32 AG064815-01, $131,836): “ENHANCE: Developing a Clinical Geography Tool to Intervene in Cognitive Decline through Neighborhood Design.”
  • 2019-2022: National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research Grant (R44AG063683-01, $1,612,024): “A Mobile Informatics Solution to Aid in Memory” Co-Investigator.
  • 2019-2021: Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research Postdoctoral Translational Scholar Program Fellowship (NIH UL1 TR002240-02, $85,000). 
  • 2018-2020: University of Michigan Institute for Social Research Social Environment and Health Program Postdoctoral Research Fellowship ($115,000).

Recent Honors and Awards:

  • 2023: Innovative Research on Aging Silver Award
  • 2023: NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Science Honors: Early-Stage Investigator Paper Competition Awardee
  • 2023: National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Rising Star Award
  • 2022: Gerontological Society of America Carroll L. Estes Rising Star Award
  • 2021: University of Michigan Postdoctoral Association Conference Award
  • 2021: Alzheimer's Association Interdisciplinary Summer Research Institute scholar
  • 2020: University of Michigan Outstanding Postdoctoral Fellow Award

Recent Publications 

* Indicates student mentee 

  • Cannon, M., Bergman*, L., Finlay, J. 2023. COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Community Connections and Third Place Engagement: A Qualitative Analysis of Older Americans. Journal of Aging and Environment.
  • Wu, Y.*, Esposito, M., Li, M.*, Clarke, P., Judd, S., & Finlay, J. 2023. Neighborhood ‘Disamenities’: local barriers and cognitive function among Black and white aging adults. BMC Public Health.
  • Joseph, C.*, Kobayashi, L., Frain, L., & Finlay, J. 2023. “I can’t take any chances”: A mixed-methods study of frailty, isolation, worry, and loneliness among aging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Applied Gerontology.
  • Finlay, J., Esposito, M., Langa, K., Judd, S., Clarke, P. 2022. Cognability: An Ecological Theory of Neighborhoods and Cognitive Aging. Social Science & Medicine.
  • Finlay, J., Jang, J., Esposito, M., McClure, L., Judd, S., & Clarke, P. 2022. “My neighborhood is fuzzy, not hard and fast”: Individual and contextual effects on perceived neighborhood boundaries among aging Americans. Urban Studies.
  • Finlay, J., Meltzer, G.*, Cannon, M., & Kobayashi, L. 2021. Aging in Place During a Pandemic: Neighborhood Engagement and Environments Since the COVID-19 Pandemic Onset. The Gerontologist. /10.1093/geront/gnab169
  • Finlay, J., Yu, W.*, Clarke, P., Li, M.*, Judd, S., Esposito, M. 2021. Neighborhood cognitive amenities? A mixed-methods study of intellectually-stimulating infrastructure and cognitive function among older Americans. Wellbeing, Space & Society.
  • Finlay, J., Esposito, M., Li, M.*, Zhou, H.*, Judd, S., & Clarke, P. 2021. Active Aging Infrastructure and Cognitive Health: A Mixed-Methods Study of Aging Americans. Preventive Medicine.
  • Finlay, J., Esposito, M., Li, M.*, Kobayashi, L., Khan, A.*, Gomez-Lopez, I., Melendez, R., Colabianchi, N., Judd, S., & Clarke, P. 2021. Can Neighborhood Social Infrastructure Modify Cognitive Function? A Mixed-Methods Study of Urban-Dwelling Aging Americans. Journal of Aging and Health.
  • Finlay, J. & Rowles, G. 2021. Clinical Geography: A Proposal to Embrace Space, Place and Wellbeing through Person-Centered Practice. Wellbeing, Space & Society.
  • Finlay, J. 2020. Intimately Old: An Embodied and Emplaced Feminist Approach to Aging. Hypatia.
  • Finlay, J., Esposito, M., Tang, S., Gomez-Lopez, I., Sylvers, D.*, Judd, S., Clarke, P. 2020. Fast-Food for Thought: Retail Food Environments as Resources for Cognitive Health and Wellbeing Among Aging Americans? Health & Place.
  • Finlay, J. & Finn, B. 2020. Geography’s Blindspot: The Age-Old Urban Question. Urban Geography.
  • Finlay, J., McCarron, H.*, Statz, T., Zmora, R.* 2019. A Critical Approach to Aging in Place: A Case Study Comparison of Personal and Professional Perspectives from the Minneapolis Metropolitan Area. Journal of Aging & Social Policy.
  • Finlay, J., Esposito, M., Kim, M., Gomez-Lopez, I., Clarke, P. 2019. Closure of ‘Third Places’? Exploring Potential Consequences for Collective Health and Wellbeing. Health & Place.
  • Finlay, J., Gaugler, J., & Kane, R. 2018. Ageing in the margins: Expectations of and struggles for ‘a good place to grow old’ among low-income older Minnesotans. Ageing & Society. doi:10.1017/S0144686X1800123X
  • Finlay, J. & Kobayashi, L. 2018. Social isolation and loneliness in later life: A parallel convergent mixed-methods case study of older adults and their residential contexts in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, USA. Social Science & Medicine.
  • Finlay, J. 2018. ‘Walk like a penguin!’: Older Minnesotans’ experiences of (non)therapeutic white space. Social Science & Medicine.
  • Finlay, J., & Bowman, J.* 2017. Geographies on the Move: A Practical and Theoretical Approach to the Mobile Interview. The Professional Geographer.

Updated August 2023