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One in four people in the world have a psychiatric or neurological condition. Ten years from now, nearly 30% of the population between 40 and 65 will be diagnosed with a brain condition. The course Brain Health for Life. Preventing Brain-Related Disability, promoted by EIT Health and organized by Biocat, the ”la Caixa” Foundation and Institut Guttmann, raised awareness of the latest studies on brain health with some of the top researchers in the world, including Dr. Álvaro Pascual-Leone, leader of the event and director of the Guttmann Brain Health Institute. “Despite huge investment in neuroscience and psychiatry, the advances have been very limited. More people die of cardiovascular or oncological diseases, but they suffer more from the disabilities caused by neurological and psychiatric conditions,” Pascual-Leone noted. 

Nearly 300 people took part in the program, which took place in a virtual session over two days (December 15 and 16) and highlighted that brain diseases are a global health challenge and the number one cause of disability in the world. It was also noted that lifestyle and environmental factors can affect these conditions.


These are some of the researchers’ most noteworthy messages:

  • Changing lifestyle can (potentially) reduce the risk of disability due to a brain disease by up to 80% (Álvaro Pascual-Leone, Guttman Brain Health Institute)

  • Pollution affects brain development, mainly in the early stages of life. It is important to act to lower this impact (Jordi Sunyer, ISGlobal & Pompeu Fabra University) 

  • Nutrition has a significant influence on the risk of cognitive deterioration and dementia. The Mediterranean diet offers protection (Emili Ros, IDIBAPS / Hospital Clinic)

  • Physical exercise changes the brains of the elderly, making their structure look more like a young brain (Arthur Kramer – Center for Cognitive & Brain Health at Northeastern
    University, Boston)

  • The fact that people today sleep fewer hours than in previous decades has a negative effect on brain health (Alex Iranzo, Clinic Institute of Neurosciences & AdSalutem)

  • Some personality types pose a risk of cognitive deterioration, mainly those with repetitive negative thoughts (Nathalie Marchant, University College London)

  • Meditation affects several areas of the brain and can help improve cognition and mental health (Gaël Chételat, INSERM, France)

  • The concept of cognitive reserve explains why two people with equal brain deterioration can have different levels of cognition. The higher the level of education, the greater the cognitive reserve (Yaakov Stern - Taub Institute for the Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, Columbia University)

In the Innovation Track, with the participation of twelve startups that develop tools to promote brain health, the winner was ABLE Human Motion, led by Alfons Carnicero. The Barcelona company develops a lightweight, easy-to-use and affordable exoskeleton for persons with spinal cord injury. 


The impact of Covid-19: more social belonging and less loneliness

The course also shared the preliminary results of the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative (BBHI), led by Institut Guttmann, on the pandemic’s impact on mental health. Scientists monitored 2,500 people over eight months to analyze the effects of social restrictions on mental and brain health.

According to the study, lockdown boosted people’s feeling of belonging and reduced loneliness. Scientists suspect that this is due to the shows of social solidarity over those months, like clapping for health workers. Nevertheless, symptoms of anxiety and depression rose during the pandemic: the youngest groups showed higher anxiety levels, while people living under the poverty line were more likely to have symptoms compatible with depression, especially among older groups.

The course was organized under the framework of the B·Debate series of scientific debates with collaboration from the University of Barcelona Institute of Neurosciences, Deanna and Sidney Wolk Center for Memory Health and Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research a Hebrew SeniorLife, Meditecnologia and Medicen Paris.

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