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Understanding the True State of Brain Health Here in Ontario

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For OBI, building out the brain health ecosystem means promoting more system players such as community groups like Dancing With Parkinson’s, whose mission is to bring those living with neurological disorders and seniors out of isolation and to foster connection through dance.

Tom Mikkelsen, President & Scientific Director, Ontario Brain Institute

Dr. Tom Mikkelsen

President & Scientific Director, Ontario Brain Institute

Deanna Groetzinger, Manager, Neurological Health Charities Canada

Deanna Groetzinger

Manager, Neurological Health Charities Canada

The Ontario Brain Institute is leading the way in creating a collaborative ecosystem of brain health experts and advocates.

“Brain health is in the eye of the beholder,” says Dr. Tom Mikkelsen, President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI), a provincially funded not-for-profit that accelerates discovery and innovation in brain health by creating seamless connections between research discovery, patient care, and commercialization. “It has to do with a state of being — thinking, feeling, social activity, and behaviour. Brain health is very broad — it means different things to different people.”

Brain health disorders include everything from neurodevelopmental disorders like cerebral palsy and autism, to neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and dementias including Alzheimer’s, to mental health conditions.


Widespread impact

“Brain disorders are a leading cause of disability worldwide, and one in three Ontarians will develop one over the course of their lifetime,” says Deanna Groetzinger, Manager at Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC) , a coalition of health charities and national brain health partner of the OBI. “Brain disorders actually have a greater impact on the number of years lived in less-than-ideal health than conditions like heart disease and cancer.” Brain disorders impact not only patients but also their families, caregivers, and society as a whole.

Brain disorders are a leading cause of disability worldwide, and one in three Ontarians will develop one over the course of their lifetime.

To get a snapshot of brain health in Ontario, OBI collected data on 13 brain disorders through the Brain Health in Ontario initiative. Dr. Mikkelsen estimates that one in six people living with one of these 13 disorders has at least one other brain disorder, and notes that people with brain disorders have much higher mental health and addictions health service usage. Action is needed to better understand the complexities of brain health and support those impacted.

Leading the way forward

OBI has taken a leadership role in the brain health space to support Ontarians through the creation of a brain health ecosystem that connects researchers, clinicians, patients and their advocates, industry, community groups and policymakers in order to foster the discovery and delivery of innovative products and services that improve the lives of those living with brain disorders. “Biomedical health research is all about team science these days,” says Dr. Mikkelsen. “We have experts in different areas, whether it relates to scientific discovery or the health care practitioners delivering services or patients and their advocates. And we’re bringing them all together.”

For example, OBI’s priority setting process with research networks ensure that research efforts focus on what really matters to those impacted by bringing together different perspectives. A caregiver said, “If you know one kid with autism you know one kid with autism. Participating in something like this enables the researchers to get a much broader and more generalized perspective of what the day-to-day life is like and that means that they can then focus their research in terms of tangible benefits what matters to us as families.”

Working together

“Together with OBI, we’re pushing to break down those silos of expertise by sharing information and innovation,” says Groetzinger. “This is how we’re really going to move forward on true understanding about brain conditions and how they can be studied, managed, and treated.”

Dr. Mikkelsen and Groetzinger note the importance of continuing to build the brain health ecosystem. Their goal is for Ontario and Canada to shine as a world leader in brain research, commercialization, and care.

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To learn more about NHCC, visit

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