International Meeting on Dementia Inspires Action and Collaboration

The brightest minds in brain health gathered in Barcelona recently for the second annual conference of the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) to discuss how best to respond to the growing global plight of dementia. The inter-professional conference, held April 19-22, 2017, featured panel discussions, poster presentations, and breakout sessions on science, policy, and narrative, in addition to artistic performances. The meeting drew more than 175 attendees from over 15 countries across Europe, North America, and South America, including 18 scholarship awardees primarily from the Mediterranean and Latin America.

Diverse Presentations

A major emphasis of the meeting was to highlight and impact policy decisions at a local and national level by strengthening regional awareness of dementia. On the first day, presenters spoke about the importance of developing a national plan on dementia, and how policy and economics can influence health. Panelists included Tarun Dua from the World Health Organization, Paloma Casado Durández from the Spanish Ministry of Health, and Martin Knapp from the International Inequities Institute at the London School of Economics. The presentations inspired discussions between conference attendees, representatives from local universities and research organizations, and Spanish government officials. Subsequently, Pascual Sanchez-Juan from Hospital Universitario Marques de Valdecilla—a regional partner for the meeting—was designated as the coordinator of the regional dementia plan in Cantabria by the Spanish Ministry of Health.

The second day of the conference was organized in part by the Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health at GBHI and focused on the importance of changing the narrative around dementia and aging. It opened with stirring performances by artists and Fellows Heidi ClareJamie TalanJosh Kornbluth, and Dominic Campbell who shared their talents in music, writing, and improvisation. Jee Kim from the Narrative Initiative and McArthur Fellow awardee Anne Basting, Founder and President of Timeslips, were featured speakers. They discussed the impact media and art can have on identity and beliefs about dementia, both in society at large and for patients themselves. In the evening, attendees had the opportunity to see a performance of André y Dorine, produced by Kulunka Teatro. The play, an emotional depiction of an elderly couple coping with Alzheimer's disease, received rave reviews.

The third and final day was developed in collaboration with the Sociedad España Neurological (SEN) as a scientific exchange between dementia leaders in Spain and GBHI faculty. It included a plenary talk by GBHI Co-Director Bruce Miller, as well as sessions on frontotemporal dementia, advances in dementia prevention, Alzheimer’s disease and Down Syndrome, and genetic markers for dementia. A common theme throughout the day was how dementia takes a disproportionate toll on vulnerable populations.

The unique inter-professional nature of the conferences appealed to many attendees; one GBHI faculty member described the event as, "One of the most interesting and unusual conferences I have attended in years. Thought-provoking, wide-ranging, and very enjoyable.”

Fostering Engagement

In advance of the meeting, the Atlantic Fellows at GBHI also took part in a leadership training session facilitated by Penelope Brook, Executive Director of the Atlantic Institute, Nadiya Figueroa, Dean of Scholarships and Director of Leadership & Change at the Rhodes Trust in Oxford, and GBHI faculty Christine Ritchie and staff Suzanne Kawahara. During the interactive session, Fellows discussed a case study on how data can influence public policy, and they developed project proposals on ways to engage women in the fight against dementia. Women are disproportionately affected by dementia, with both higher rates of diagnosis and a greater burden of caregiving.

Perhaps most importantly, the annual meeting brought members of GBHI together—many for the first time—to meet, learn from, and inspire one another. Fellows shared their projects with their mentors and peers through poster presentations, GBHI faculty presented their latest research findings during the panel sessions, and breakout discussions fostered important conversations about issues facing dementia research and advocacy work and the role GBHI can play. 

Summing up the experience of many at the conference, a Fellow stated: "I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to participate in this conference. It was intellectually stimulating, socially engaging, and bursting with the spirit of hopeful collaboration.”