GBHI in Mexico: A Beautiful Affair

Brian Lawlor—Site Director, GBHI, Trinity—shares his account of participating in the GBHI Annual Conference 2023: "Building Bridges for Brain Health Equity" and the AAIC Satellite Symposium in Mexico City.

Members of the GBHI community ride on Trajeras in Mexico City.

Above: GBHI community members in Mexico City. Photo by Gustavo Graf.

The 2023 edition of the GBHI Annual Conference in Mexico City was a truly remarkable experience. This was GBHI’s first face-to-face annual conference since the COVID-19 pandemic and the emotional connections between the 2021 and 2022 cohorts of Atlantic Fellows were palpable and loud!

Our Mexican hosts showed us their culture of warm hospitality, their history and tradition, their love of dance and music, and their deep caring for those living with dementia.

On day one, Global Atlantic Fellow Stefanie Piña Escudero launched the welcome to Mexico and Luis Miquel Gutierrez, Founder & General Director, National Institute of Geriatrics, National Institutes of Health, introduced us to the importance of conversation, conviviality and connection—all of which are key to the success of the complex work of Atlantic Fellows. Ana Luisa Sosa, National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, spoke of the essential ingredients of a good leader: vision, focus, persistence and caring—values that were evident in her own dementia leadership journey.

Global Atlantic Fellow Stefanie Pina Escudero speaks at the GBHI Annual Conference 2023 in Mexico City.
Marianna Longoria speaks at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico City

Global Atlantic Fellows Stefanie Pina Escudero (left) and Marianna Longoria (right) speak at different events during the GBHI Annual Conference 2023 in Mexico City. Photos by Gustavo Graf.

Capacity building was front and centre. How can we build intrinsic capacity and  resilience and what is the best model for sustainability and capacity building in the regions where our fellows are working and beginning to transform? Many ideas were discussed. The new Alzheimer’s Association-GBHI capacity grants that were announced at this meeting will play a significant part in this evolving story.

On day two, we jumped into the Mexico City traffic and travelled by bus to visit to the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, where we heard about the wonderful science and care that is happening in the dementia space in Mexico. Our own Global Atlantic Fellow Arnolod Muñoz chaired a panel with Global Atlantic Fellow Mariana Longoria; Estela Vasquez Rojas, Art Professor and Caregiver; and Bruce Miller, GBHI Founding Director, where we learned about the close juxtaposition of arts and brain science for dementia.

Bruce told the story of Anne Adams, demonstrating how neurodegenerative disease can at times facilitate artistic expression, a hopeful story of capacity and creativity even in the presence of a progressive brain disease. We also heard powerful and hopeful testimony from Mexican Art Professor and caregiver Estela Vasquez Rojas about the difficult journey her husband, the artist and sculptor, Carlos Carim, had to make in getting a diagnosis and the impact of dementia on the family. Her story said so much about why GBHI ‘s mission to improve the lives of people living with dementia is so important.

The last morning of the GBHI conference was an expression of accomplishment and joy. RedLat, led by Global Atlantic Fellow Agustín Ibáñez and involving so many Atlantic Fellows, came together to talk about where they are and where they plan to go. What a demonstration of collaboration and trust for brain health and dementia across Latin America, a model for the rest of the world, showing what we can achieve through radical collaboration, a key message of GBHI. And to end, we met with the representatives of our ‘triple A’ partnerships, the Alzheimer’s Association, Atlantic Institute, and Alzheimer’s Disease International. Our fellows really enjoyed meeting Evie O’ Brien of the Atlantic Institute, Stefania Forner and Oz Ismail from the Alzheimer’s Association, and Diego Aguilar from Alzheimer’s Disease International, to learn about the opportunities that are available to them to collaborate and build connections that will support their own work in their home countries.

Aline Haas, Cathy Correa & Mike Hanrahan perform at AAIC Satellite in Mexico City.

Atlantic Fellows Mike Hanrahan, Aline Haas, and Cathy Lopera perform during the AAIC Satellite Symposium in Mexico City. Photo by Gustavo Graf.

During the next two days of the AAIC Satellite Symposium that followed, GBHI and our Atlantic Fellows participated in many of the activities including symposia, posters and in providing the all-important creative ‘brain health boosters’ between sessions. There were many highlights, including the GBHI Lightning Session with Atlantic Fellow Macarena Espina wining the prize for best presentation, a symposium on intersectionality and the music and dance interval with Cathy Lopera, Aline Haas and Mike Hanrahan that raised the roof, particularly the renditions of Stockton’s Wings’ ‘Beautiful Affair’ and ‘We had it all’.

So, we truly had it all, we had the best of times at this year’s GBHI’s Annual Conference in Mexico City. And it was a beautiful affair! We look forward to hearing about the many connections and collaborations that occurred during a very productive week in Mexico City. Thanks to a wonderful organising team and to our Mexican hosts. Hasta la vista!