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Atlantic’s Focus on Dementia Goes Global

Resource type: News

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies |

For more than two decades Atlantic has invested in programs to strengthen the quality of our lives, with a major emphasis on addressing needs arising from a worldwide population living longer than ever. Part of that work has included support for initiatives to leverage the wisdom and experience of our elders and increase the effectiveness of their health care services. We have also helped promote positive attitudes toward aging over the entire course of people’s lives.

Our previous work in the area of aging has factored into decisions we are making as we approach our final year of grantmaking. Our goal in this, as well other program areas in which we have made substantial investments, is to effectively build on our experience and values to make lasting contributions to address the major challenges of our time. Dementia – the diminution of a healthy aging mind – is such a challenge. As our older populations grow, the impact of dementia is rising sharply, affecting individuals, families and nations at an unprecedented scale. As we make our final investments, we believe that dementia is a 21st century challenge that merits a major strategic investment.

Announcing the Global Brain Health Institute

Today, two longtime Atlantic grantees – the University of California, San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin – are jointly announcing the launch, with Atlantic’s support, of the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI). Our support for GBHI is Atlantic’s final grant in this area and, at $177 million, is the largest single non-capital grant in our foundation’s history.

GBHI aims to reduce the scale and impact of dementia globally by building the interdisciplinary leadership needed to develop and translate research, evidence and innovation into policy and practice at the public health level and, by doing so, to extend life quality and address the massive personal and financial burdens that afflict millions of families worldwide. To that end, GBHI’s efforts will be embedded in a robust and collaborative environment, focused on developing and implementing scalable prevention and intervention efforts.

VIDEO: GBHI will train at least 600 global leaders over 15 years in the United States, Ireland and around the world to carry out dementia research, deliver health care, and change policies and practices in their regions.

The simple, unavoidable truth is that from birth to death, we are aging. Our bodies age, and so do our minds. Due to continuing advances in science, medicine and technology, life expectancies have extended and will continue to extend globally. Prolonged connection not only to our loved ones but to their rich experience, talent and vitality will continue to benefit our families, communities and societies as a whole. But aging also presents us with a range of health and social challenges. The onset and progression of dementia, for which there is currently no known prevention, cure or effective treatment, has devastating and tragic consequences for all it touches.

The reality is stark. Current estimates are that dementia, including Alzheimer’s, affects nearly 48 million people worldwide. This staggering figure is expected to double every 20 years, and more than triple by 2050. The World Health Organization estimates that a new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds.

A recent report put the global cost of dementia for 2015 at $818 billion, and warned it may reach the trillion dollar mark by 2018 and explode to as much as $2 trillion in the next 15 years. In the United States this year alone, the cost of Alzheimer’s and other dementias will be upwards of $226 billion.

This is a global challenge that transcends rich nations. It demands not only our immediate attention, but prompt and sustained action.

Though aging may reduce our speed and agility in some respects, it also brings to us and to our communities insights, wisdom, empathy and creativity borne from experience and reflection. Atlantic’s aging program, active predominantly in the United States and the island of Ireland, has sought to identify and amplify both the distinctive needs and contributions of elders through encore careers and the strengthening of older people’s engagement and representation. We have worked to confront and reduce the discrimination, social stigma and marginalization that all too often comes with age. Atlantic has also concentrated on providing the women and men we entrust to care for those we love with the strong worker protections they deserve.

John McKee
John McKee, who has dementia, enjoys a visit with his daughter Gayle in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2009. The new Global Brain Health Institute will train international health providers as leaders, advocates and key stakeholders in the shared fight against dementia.

A Comprehensive Vision for Research and Groundbreaking Models of Prevention and Care

Our support for the Global Brain Health Institute is a major investment in those who will advance an appreciation of and effective action toward enhancing a healthy aging mind and what that means for the lives of individuals, families and caregivers; the health and social systems of communities; the policies and treasuries of governments; and our perceptions and practices globally, as we expand the boundaries of healthy aging. GBHI seeks to frame dementia as a public health priority, boosting research and resources to mitigate risk factors, identify causes, and develop treatments and effective social policy responses more rapidly and effectively.

As Atlantic wraps up our grantmaking and concludes our planned limited life, we fully recognize that the challenges and opportunities in which we have invested over the past 33 years are multi-faceted, complex and entrenched. Society’s deepest challenges are ongoing and rarely solvable in short bursts of activity and grantmaking. Similarly, opportunities for improvement and change continually present themselves. Sustained improvements and social transformation most often derive from visionary, determined and connected individuals informed by learning, research and discovery, ongoing collaboration across sectors and, ultimately, from the advocacy and implementation skills required to achieve systems change that results in tangible outcomes in people’s lives. For this reason, much of Atlantic’s grantmaking has been in research and higher education institutions and in the facilities that literally lay the foundation for those efforts and populate fields with innovative, dedicated professionals and leaders.

GBHI, co-located at UCSF and Trinity College Dublin – two leading recipients of Atlantic grants in physical capital and program support – have the demonstrated capacity to launch a generation of multi-sectoral, cross-national thinkers, advocates and leaders who will revolutionize the environments, policies and systems that can foster healthy aging. They embody the experience, vision and capability to drive innovation and solutions for issues about which Atlantic has long cared and addressed, and about which the world must care more.

Today’s Investments Pay Big Dividends for Many Tomorrows

Finis est principium – the end is the beginning. Even as we make our final grants, we intend to create opportunities to make lasting improvements in the lives of others by creating the infrastructure – in physical, human and social capital – that will continue to benefit as many people as possible.

The launch of GBHI provides another example of why Atlantic is not “spending down,” but is, more accurately, continuing to think big in our efforts to address critical global challenges. Following Chuck Feeney’s mandate, we continue to believe that we can, with opportunities like this, achieve the greatest value and return by investing sooner rather than later. We are excited about GBHI and grateful for the many hands and minds that have developed and will guide and participate in this effort into the future and beyond Atlantic’s presence.


Best Regards,


Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO