Brain Health Buzz - Issue 4


by Alejandra Guerrero Barragán

Belonging is a theatre play which presents a poignant retelling of the story of a person, family and community as they travel through a journey of dementia together. At the end of a two-week tour, Belonging came to Dublin and, on the spring evening of Thursday 31st May 2018, was attended by Atlantic Fellows, GBHI Faculty and Staff based at TCD. The play, written by Karin Diamond, has been a storming success at the Welsh Theatre Awards (winning Best Actor for Llion Williams and Best Director for Peter Doran) and so we were delighted to have the opportunity to experience Karin’s vision first hand in Dublin. 

The play tells the story about two people living with dementia and their pathway through the first symptoms, diagnosis and how life changes after it, not just for the person but for all family and community members. This dramatic portrayal brings to life all the anger, anxiety, confusion, denial and stigma that arise with the diagnosis, but also shows that at the end they still were the loved ones, they still belong to their families. The cast made these feelings come to life and really engaged the audience. They showed that dementia is a reality that can happen to anybody. It was impossible not to identify with one of the characters.

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At a personal level this play touched me and, as a clinician from Colombia, it has made me reflect on all the implications that are behind the diagnosis of dementia. Belonging reminds us that, as clinicians, we are just a piece of the puzzle. It is a humble reminder to us that there are many things we can do for the person living with dementia and their families to help them put all the pieces together. It’s important to highlight that as Atlantic Fellows, we have a responsibility to be the voice of those that, for different reasons, can’t speak for themselves. We represent the change that must take place to raise awareness and fight for a dementia-friendly world. Belonging, is a masterpiece as it is a unique tool to raise awareness within the scientific and non-scientific community alike and I, for one, hope work like this will spread around the world to help transform society. 

Convening of Atlantic Fellowship programs in contemporary Cuba: reflection from one of the Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health

by Eléonore Bayen

During May 2018, twelve Atlantic Fellows, Faculty and staff from four of the Atlantic Institute programs (GBHI, Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in Southeast Asia, Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in South Africa, and Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity) embarked on a one-week pilot learning expedition in Cuba, organized by the Cuba Platform. The Cuba Platform is a platform for innovation and dialogue with Cuba. This experimental journey included numerous field visits, meetings with Cuban experts, immersion in Cuban culture and economics, and reflection time among participants and with Sarah Stephens’ group from the Cuba Platform. 

The event offered Atlantic Fellows an intense and multi-domain learning experience that enabled participants to discover and understand Cuban history and its current transition period, new emerging economies in Cuba, vibrant Cuban art, sharp research in social sciences and how Cuban people transfer their research into actions. We also learned about the multiple roots of the very unique Cuban human capital and Cuban spirit. 

The Cuba platform facilitated and created the opportunity for constructive conversations with economists, sociologists, general practitioners, cooks, community leaders, activists, researchers, musicians, car and bus drivers, businessmen and women. Immersion visits were very constructive and included the Lizt Alfonso dance school, Dr Funes’ farm, the velo Cuba cooperative, the house of artist Sandra Ramos, the restoration garage Nostalgicar, transformative workshops for women, the Cuban Literacy Museum, the universe of young rap musicians from Havana.

These varied gatherings and settings provided multi-level discussions, sometimes in the form of a kind of ‘social living lab’, opening new doors for creativity and collaborations with Cuba and among the Atlantic Fellows. The meetings were very moving and featured very generous people. Topics that resonated intensively with the challenges of the Atlantic Fellows and the objectives of their respective programs were brought to the table. The discussions acted as sparkles that kept triggering self and collective reflection among Atlantic Fellows. It was an occasion to share common and also opposite views, and mutual understanding among Atlantic programs and with Cuban participants. 

Cuba is a perfect and timely place for an authentic conversation with all and each one of the Atlantic Fellows because Atlantic Fellows are growing individuals aiming at gaining leadership, courage and inspiration for their work for fairer, healthier, and more inclusive societies in their home countries. The Cuba platform (and many prior years of substantial background work carried out by Sarah Stephens and her colleagues) made it possible for the Atlantic Fellows to get a great dose of inspiration in a short period of time while listening to the lives and projects of exceptional Cuban people.

This was extremely valuable and inspiring for Atlantic Fellows who are aiming to create social innovation and face intense and diverse challenges in their home countries in relation to social and economic inequities, gender and race issues, solidarity gaps, support needs for people with dementia and for their caregivers, a need for new approaches towards aging, health care organizational issues, literacy, empowerment of women, advocacy, ecological awareness and much more. 

Being exposed to the current Cuban reality, which represents an incredible composite of much more than just Cuba’s history, provided opportunities for Atlantic Fellows to step back and reflect on the personal versus collective leadership; to make a deep dive into their personal values, individual beliefs, self-commitment and life projects as growing leaders of their own country; to build cross-program friendships and plant seeds for future interactions among Atlantic Fellowship programs, and between Atlantic programs and Cuba through the Cuba platform. 

At a time where values around courage, commitment, resistance, environment, solidarity, respect, and support to the most vulnerable people from our countries are so valuable, and at the same time so fragile worldwide, it seems that Cuba somehow has the ability to question us about possible inspirational paths which encompass old-new ways to stay creative and about attitudes towards social change. It is surprising and it is paradoxical for some people. It is refreshing for sure, and it is happening now in transitional Cuba. I believe none of the Atlantic Fellows and participants were the same when leaving Cuba. Suitcases were packed with emotions, ideas, energy and courage. The conversation between Cuba and the members of the Atlantic Fellowship programs will continue, with everyone feeling more connected and ready to work more closely in the future towards equity.