Life Course Brain Health Education and Training

Brian Lawlor, Site Director at Trinity College Dublin, and Eoin Cotter, Learning Experience Program Lead, reflect on innovation and emerging trends in brain health education and training as explored at a recent GBHI webinar.

people of different ages in a classroom

Education, awareness and training are at the heart of a public health approach to brain health, and a key means of translating the medical and scientific understanding of brain health into action. At a European and wider international level, there are moves to better coordinate healthcare planning, brain research, and implementation of research findings into practice. All of these initiatives point to the growing importance of taking a brain health-informed approach across the life course. 

There is also a growing focus on brain capital and brain skills as a means to build and support capacity and resilience for all in society as they engage with the challenges and opportunities that the future presents.

In November 2022, GBHI hosted a webinar “Life Course Brain Health Training & Education–Global & European Perspectives’’, which aimed to explore these issues, provide examples of best practice and innovation, and identify common approaches and consensus areas for future focus. 

Year of Brain Health

Introducing the session, Ian Robertson, GBHI Founding Director at Trinity College, emphasized the importance of education in understanding and building brain health, as well as its potential to affect all areas of life, from politics and democracy to mental health, innovation and the economy. 

Pawel Świeboda, Human Brain Project Director General and EBRAINS CEO, spoke of 2022 as the year of brain health, with a clear pivot to prevention approaches in a number of policy statements from global organisations. He also highlighted the challenge of addressing the ‘4 Ps’ of preserving, protecting, planning and prevention, and the importance of continuing to focus on training and education despite the widespread underfunding of prevention efforts in public health budgets. 

Emerging Themes

A number of themes emerged during the session, including the significance of early years brain health education and the importance of taking a whole of society approach to health, incorporating brain health initiatives, to maximize impact and avoid continuing inequities. The potential for charities and civil society groups to amplify efforts was noted. The need to build awareness and skills amongst healthcare workers was also highlighted as well as the urgent requirement to bridge the knowledge gap regarding brain health amongst politicians and policy makers. 

Closing the Brain Health Knowledge Gap 

The brain is our most important asset and we need to protect it and reduce risk to it across the life course. Much can be done for dementia prevention in terms of addressing modifiable risk factors but there's a huge knowledge gap amongst health care professionals, the general public and policy makers. This knowledge gap is even greater in those most at risk of poor brain health such as the disadvantaged, the poor, and those living in low- and middle-income countries where the potential to reduce risk and prevent dementia may be even greater.

In this webinar, we saw many examples of excellence in brain health education and training programs for professionals, the general public and children. However, we need to build stronger partnerships and make greater efforts to connect brain health training and education programs for the general public and health care professionals and to promote brain health at all levels across Europe and the world. This webinar was the beginning of this process. 

If you are interested in exploring this topic further and closing the brain health knowledge gap, please contact eoin.cotter@gbhi.org.

Webinar Program

Speakers highlighted examples of brain health education and training from a variety of different contexts including: 

  • Brian Lawlor, GBHI Site Director at Trinity College, who spoke about the Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health program at GBHI, and its growth and impact since foundation. 
  • Neil Fullerton who presented the work of Brain Health Scotland, where he is Project and Communications Lead, in developing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for sportspeople and the general public, and their recently launched school’s program ‘My Amazing Brain’. 
  • Agustin Ibanez, Director of the Latin American Brain Health Institute and Atlantic Fellow at GBHI, who presented on the work of BrainLat in building both research capacity and leading education programs for professionals and the general public in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. 
  • Speaking of the advances they have led in creating digital neurorehabilitation tools and platforms, Paul Vershure, Professor of Neuroengineering at Donders Centre of Neuroscience, Radboud University emphasized the importance of in parallel training for clinicians and patients in both the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their use. 
  • Eléonore Bayen, Professor of Medicine at Sorbonne University, Director of the Neuro-Rehabilitation Department of Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital and Atlantic Fellow at GBHI, concluded with a review of the growing portfolio of children and schools based educational programs she has led, including the ‘My Brain Robbie’ brain health awareness campaign. 

The panel discussion featured Cinzia Alcidi, Director of Research, Centre for European Policy Studies, Paweł Świeboda, Human Brain Project Director General and EBRAINS CEO and Laura O'Philbin, Research and Policy Manager, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland.