TORONTO — Baycrest is trying to address the rising rates of dementia with a television ad campaign that also aims to spread the word about its research in the field of brain health.
Garry Foster, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation, said that while there are many elements to Baycrest, including a geriatric hospital, a long-term care home, a brain research institute and an education facility, its market research has shown that behind cancer, the biggest health concern among people 50 and older is brain health.
“We thought it was appropriate… to start talking about brain health and aging as they are some of our most pressing health concerns,” Foster said.
The 30-second ads, which began airing in September and will continue to run on stations such as CBC, CTV, CP24 and the Discovery Channel until early December, present the brain as the most complex machine on earth and describe how Baycrest is working to change the way we approach brain health and aging.
According to Baycrest’s website, global dementia is on the rise. About 747,000 Canadians are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and by 2031, it’s projected that 1.4 million Canadians will have dementia, costing the national economy nearly $300 billion annually.
In addition to the current ad campaign, Baycrest is also in the midst of a fundraising campaign it hopes will bring in $500 million over the next 10 years, much of which will go toward revitalizing and renovating its aging infrastructure.
Although the ad campaign – which he said “will probably cost less than 0.2 per cent of what we’re trying to raise” – is an attempt to rebrand Baycrest, Foster said he hopes people don’t see it too differently.
“The Toronto Jewish community understands it in many respects as the Toronto Jewish home for the aged… But taking care of people is only a part of what we do… we have a world-leading research facility, we train more geriatric students than anyone in North America… Not only do we have a huge impact on our community, we have an impact on the broader community as well.”
One of the major focuses of the research at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute is prevention or delay of dementia’s onset in older adults.
One of the initiatives, led by Dr. Randy McIntosh, vice-president of research at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, is to build the world’s first functional virtual brain to aid in the treatment of people who have suffered brain damage due to stroke or dementia.
“One of the challenges with stroke is understanding how the brain is responding to the stroke. Part of what we’re doing at Baycrest is collecting a lot of brain imaging data and looking at patients who have had a stroke, but also using that in conjunction with a new brain modeling platform called the virtual brain, which allows you to take imaging data from a patient and put it into a computer and put it in a model of that person’s brain. And then the aspiration for that platform is to allow us to look at how that person’s brain responds and then hopefully be able to use that to track how they are recovering and maybe help them recover more quickly,” McIntosh explained.
“One of the more important things is that when there are problems with cognition – this is also true for patients with dementia – you can train cognitive functions that support… executive functions, like the things that you do to plan your day, what you’re going to do next… It’s possible to train people to use those more effectively if they have other cognitive problems that they have to compensate for. That is one of the things that helps in stroke, but will also hopefully help in… dementia.”
In addition to studies that have shown the benefit of music and exercise on brain health, Baycrest has also conducted research that shows how the aging brain can be re-wired.
“Sometimes the wiring can help you and sometimes it can hurt you. What we have to understand is when does the re-wiring help you and then in our therapies try to find ways to support that re-wiring, and that empowers a person to be able to do that themselves,” McIntosh said.
Foster said he hopes the television spots will enlighten the broader community about what Baycrest is doing.
“Obviously we wanted to brand Baycrest as a place that when it comes to care, education and research, it is really a place where you can keep your brain healthy,” Foster said.