Virtual Convening Focuses on Brain Health Amidst a Global Crisis

On May 11–15, the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) community gathered online to focus on community, leadership, and building connections for brain health amidst a global crisis.

“Today, we’re not where we thought we’d be,” said Brian Lawlor, Deputy Director of GBHI, to open the GBHI Virtual Convening 2020. "Although we are separated and apart, we have worked hard at being closer together and to have a stronger sense of purpose, meaning and hope for the months and years ahead."

With physical gatherings not feasible in the pandemic, the five-day virtual convening offered a unique opportunity for over 200 community members—including Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health, faculty, staff and regional mentors—from dozens of countries across the globe to connect, learn and grow together.

Sessions included perspectives from Paola Barbarino (Alzheimer’s Disease International); Paul Volberding (UCSF); Bruce Miller, Ian Robertson, Christine Ritchie, Dominic Campbell and other GBHI faculty; and activities by the Atlantic Fellows.

A Space to Connect

Issues facing dementia care, research and advocacy—including social isolation, limited access to care, and health care inequities—are heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. For instance, the virus is having a disproportionate effect on older adults, particularly those with dementia, many of whom need caregivers but are socially isolated.

Despite a heavy toll, Covid-19 is offering many lessons, including the need for cooperation and collaboration. Paola Barbarino, CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International, emphasized the importance of this practice as we face evolving challenges.

“If you want to achieve something, you have to do it in partnership," said Barbarino.

A Space to Learn

Though crises are inherently uncertain, they carry the potential of a positive outcome. For instance, in this pandemic, a practice of leadership that reflects truth telling, decisiveness, collaboration, and empathy has emerged in countries with the most successful responses, noted Bruce Miller, Co-Director of GBHI.

Beyond having prosocial traits that differ from dictatorial leaders, the political leaders from these countries, including Denmark, Germany and New Zealand, are also women.

 “We are looking to the next generations to solve problems we never did,” said Miller.

A Space to Grow

Ian Robertson, GBHI Co-Director, challenged community members to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine the future and to be confident in one’s capabilities to make these a reality.

“We are in a position to realize new fantasies with equity,” said Robertson.

The pandemic also offers an opportunity to reconsider creativity and health, said Dominic Campbell, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health and co-founder of Creative Aging International.

"Belief in health equity begins as an act of imagination,” said Campbell. “The road only appears after you take the first step.”

The convening also featured contributions from Atlantic Fellows for Equity in Brain Health at GBHI, including Kunle Adewale, Agustin Ibanez, Stefania Illinca, Stefanie Pina-Escudero, Jane Bentley, Anne Browning, Fionnuala Sweeney, Jorge Llibre Guerra, Wambui Karanja, Dominic Campbell, Clara Dominguez Vivero, Joni Gilissen, Dana Walrath, Karin Diamond, Dvera Saxton, Fernando Aguzzoli Peres, Jennie Gubner, Cheyenne Mize and more.

Read, “From Outside the Cave: A Reflection on Life in the COVID-19 Era,” by Fernando Aguzzoli Peres, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health.