Atlantic Fellows

Reducing Dementia Worldwide: Meet the 2019–20 Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health

In September 2019, a new group of emerging leaders will join a global movement to protect the world’s aging population from threats to brain health: the 2019–20 Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI).

Hailing from twenty countries spanning Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia—and from various disciplines including the arts and humanities, medicine, cognitive science, public health, education and advocacy—the fellows represent a wide range of expertise, ambition and promise.

“We are thrilled to welcome this new, distinguished cohort of fellows to the Atlantic community,” said Victor Valcour, MD, executive director of GBHI. “They represent a tremendous opportunity to grow the global movement of brain health.”

The incoming cohort expands the Atlantic Fellows for Brain Equity program’s geographic spread to include seven new countries, including Bermuda, Chile, Ethiopia and Kenya. The program now totals 119 fellows from 36 countries.

Meet the new cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health.

Since 2016, the Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health program has trained a global community of interprofessional emerging leaders in brain health, leadership, and dementia prevention through a 12-month residential program at one of its founding sites, University of California, San Francisco or Trinity College Dublin.

Through their work, fellows emphasize local and global inequities in brain health that need to be addressed by practitioners and policymakers, with the goal of reducing the scale and impact of dementia in local communities around the world. On completion of their training, fellows join a lifelong catalytic community of seven Atlantic Fellows programs working to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

Atlantic Fellows at GBHI Celebrate Joint Graduation

By Niall Kavanagh

“Commencement is not the end, but the beginning of a deeper and enduring connection.”

Brian Lawlor, deputy director of the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), shared these words to close an inspiring joint ceremony celebrating the graduation of the third cohort of Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health at UC San Francisco (UCSF) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) on August 8.

The graduating fellows—who have spent the last twelve months based at UCSF or TCD, GBHI’s founding sites, training in brain health, leadership, and dementia prevention—now join a lifelong community of seven Atlantic Fellows programs working to advance fairer, healthier and more inclusive societies.

“There’s an incredible movement for social justice happening around the world, said Victor Valcour, executive director of GBHI, in his opening address. “And we are a part of it.”

At the simulcast event, Veronica Campbell, Bursar & Director of Strategic Innovation at TCD, served as commencement speaker. She reflected on the practice of collaboration, which is foundational to GBHI’s multidisciplinary program, and the importance of changing the narrative of dementia.

“To effect change for elder care, you're much stronger if you can harness the support and the expertise of others,” said Campbell. “By working collaboratively, so much more can be achieved than any institution or any individual working on their own.”

Through their work, fellows emphasize local and global inequities in brain health with the goal of reducing the scale and impact of dementia in local communities around the world. Two graduating fellows shared reflections of their training year.

“What is most important of this experience is what we have had together,” said Maira Okada de Oliveira, a neuropsychologist from Brazil. “At the end of the day, it’s all about people.” She credited her closing line to the founder of Atlantic Philanthropies, Chuck Feeney.

Kirti Ranchod, a neurologist from South Africa, explored the challenging next steps to address the worldwide epidemic of dementia. “We thrive on challenges, we are problem solvers,” said Ranchod. “If you want to fly, you have to give up the things weighing you down.”

Atlantic Senior Fellows from GBHI, that is, graduates of the program, now total 78, spanning nearly 30 countries worldwide. They continue to have access to career-duration mentoring, funding opportunities, global gatherings, and more.

In his closing remarks, Lawlor shared appreciation for the opportunity to address the global challenge of dementia collaboratively, even in the face of differences.

“I think the beauty of GBHI and Atlantic is people are connecting where there is no common ground,” said Lawlor. “It's about connecting across differences. And when you bridge differences and connect, you can really change culture. That’s really what we're about: changing the culture around dementia.

GBHI Gathers Brain Health Specialists to Focus on Dementia in Latin America and Beyond

Scientists, clinicians and health professionals convene to consider the latest research and ideas in dementia.

By Niall Kavanagh

“Brain health is embedded in equity,” said Victor Valcour, MD, professor of neurology and executive director of Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), to open the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) Satellite Symposium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 10. “Risk factors for dementia are rooted in health disparities.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Brazil and, more broadly, Latin America—where a third of the population lives in poverty with limited access to health care, combined with one of the world’s fastest growing elderly populations—are experiencing growing rates of dementia faster than most of the world.

Such was the setting for this global gathering of about 600 scientists, clinicians and health professionals, co-hosted by UC San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin’s collaborative GBHI.

A GROWING PROBLEM

In Brazil, about 1.7 million people live with dementia, and three quarters of them are undiagnosed. Across Latin America, roughly 4.6 million people have dementia, and two-thirds of them have Alzheimer’s disease. Like much of the world, dementia cases in Latin America are expected to triple by 2050.

“With this will come great challenges in dementia care, diagnosis, and prevention,” said Valcour.

The prevalence of dementia is higher in Latin America than much of the world, including North America and Europe, in part due to the aging population, but also because of health disparities. Dementia symptoms tend to emerge earlier in Latin American populations than others, likely due to low literacy rates, few years of formal education, high rates of poverty, and limited access to health care.

Together, these attributes reduce “cognitive reserve”—or the brain’s ability to adapt—which may protect against dementia symptoms. Further, many Latin Americans have high blood pressure and diabetes—known risk factors for dementia—compared to people in high-income countries.

There is no cure for dementia, but drug and behavioral interventions—such as healthy diet, regular exercise, and controlling blood pressure—are thought to delay onset of symptoms, and thus prevent disease.

THINKING LOCALLY, ACTING GLOBALLY

The aim of the symposium was to consider the latest research in dementia science and the need to create a National Dementia Plan for Brazil, part of the WHO’s 2017 goal to make dementia a public health priority.

The three-day meeting featured contributions from Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health at GBHI, including Maira Okada de Oliveira, who is working to improve diagnosis of dementia among illiterate groups in Brazil; Elisa Resende, MD, who is studying how teaching literacy to adults in Brazil has a high potential to lower their risk of dementia; and Barbara Costa Beber, PhD, who is increasing awareness of dementia among Brazil’s 40,000 speech and language therapists.

“From projects rooted in local communities, to national training initiatives and pan national networks, we want to equip leaders with tools to address dementia across Latin America and beyond,” said Lea Grinberg, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and GBHI executive committee member.

In addition to discussing the unique challenges dementia poses for Latin American countries, the AAIC Satellite Symposium considered a wide range of dementia-related topics, including sleep medicine, gender differences in dementia, and how to reduce stigma about dementia.

Atlantic Fellows Boon Lead Tee, MD, MSc and Yue Leng, PhD, MPhil—as well as Drs. Flavia Garcez and Ismael Calandri—won best posters for their respective projects, “Neurolinguistcs Presentation of Chinese Speaking Primary Progressive Aphasia Individuals” and “Sleep Medication Use and Risk of Dementia in a Biracial Cohort of Older Adults."

Brian Lawlor, MD, deputy director of GBHI director, said he is hopeful the gathering will emphasize the importance of a public health approach to dementia, and thus strengthen collaborations and innovations. “Together as an activated community, change can be delivered,” said Lawlor.