What’s On Our Mind: Dementia

This week, we launched a new series called “What’s On Our Mind” to provide a space where we can talk with experts from around the world about current mental health issues. Hosted on Facebook Live (you don’t need a Facebook account to view), our aim is to provide an informative discussion in a casual, conversational format that is widely accessible.

Our first expert was Dr. Tia Powell, Director of the Montefiore Einstein Bioethics Program and Health and Aging Policy Fellow alumna. Tia’s recent book, Dementia Reimagined: Building a Life of Joy and Dignity from Beginning to End, is prompting lots of people to think differently about dementia. Here are five takeaways I had from our conversation:


Dementia is likely to touch all our lives. Starting at 1:43, Dr. Powell explains her personal connection to dementia and how this led her to explore what we all need to know about the topic. It is a disease that is impacting tens of millions of individuals around the globe. Even as a physician and bioethicist, Dr. Powell had a lot to learn about dementia as she provided care for her mother and her grandmother, both of whom lived with, and ultimately died from, dementia.


We need dementia funding to focus on both cure and care. Between 28:43 and 35:12, Dr. Powell talks about the need to find a balance between basic science’s search for the cure and the current needs to provide better care and higher quality of life to those living with dementia and their caregivers today. The truth is that we are probably a long way from finding a cure, but we can provide better care today.


Caregiving is key. Individuals with dementia need ever increasing care and support. Many families struggle to feel okay about getting the help they need. And many families struggle to get the help they need because of existing policies. Dr. Powell talks about her own experience of moving her mother to a nursing home at 21:25. In their case, her mother did not want to stay at home. What’s best will vary by person and family and community, but pretty much everywhere, we need more options to better support both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.


We need to start the conversation early. From 4:31-7:52, Dr. Powell talks about the right of individuals to know their diagnosis and the importance of having conversations early so that the person with dementia can most fully express their wishes and concerns as well as articulate what care they want and don’t want for themselves as their illness progresses.


Time for a culture shift. Dr. Powell calls on all of us to evolve our thinking about how we integrate and treat elders in our community, particularly frail elders in need of care or accommodation. Beginning at 36:29, she highlights innovative, and mostly low-tech, strategies that would increase quality of life for individuals with dementia, and by extension, all of us.


Thank you to everyone who joined us for the live Facebook webinar, especially members of the Council for the Advancement of Global Mental Health Research. If you missed it live, you can view the recorded interview in its entirety here.


Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University
[email protected]