00:00 / 00:00
Why Give | Impact stories

The piano in the room: A lifeline in the BC Brain Wellness Program

As the co-founder of UBC’s innovative BC Brain Wellness Program, Dr. Silke Cresswell is grateful for the support of UBC donors, who helped to kick-start the initiative.

Dr. Silke Cresswell uses some creative terms when describing the interdisciplinary approach to treating conditions of the brain, one of them being “brain user.” While it has the flavour of jargon used to describe software, it’s appropriate when describing brain health, as it reminds us that the brain is not just a passive organ of the body — it is part of a whole, unique individual.

Dr. Cresswell founded the BC Brain Wellness Program at UBC Vancouver in collaboration with Dr. Jack Taunton, a UBC MD alumnus and former Chief Medical Officer for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Donor funding has been instrumental. In addition to the community of generous donors giving their direct support, facilities that serve the program, such as the Chan Gunn Pavilion and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health — where the program is based — were made possible by donors.

Dr. Cresswell is grateful for the support — especially given the uniqueness of the program. In the past, clinical treatment of degenerative brain conditions was often somewhat hands-off. But then a new approach came about, as Dr. Cresswell explains.

“It started with realizing that we have fantastic scientists and great physicians who work together. But the people who we are really there for — the brain user, so to speak — would only come in maybe once a year or so, be told what to do by their clinician, be given a prescription, and then sent on their way for another year.” Cresswell adds, “So the thought was, we really need to get people into the centre much more frequently and empower them to take charge of their health.”

The Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health offers world-class clinical care and traditional medical treatment for a wide variety of neurodegenerative conditions. The Brain Wellness Program embodies the centre’s collaborative spirit and extends its impact by supporting patients to make tailored lifestyle changes to maximize brain resilience, enabling them to be active participants in their own care. What works for one brain user may not for another, so the program is working with partners across campus, including the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Clinic and the School of Music, to offer a variety of innovative programs — one of them involving a piano.

“The piano was very kindly given to us by a donor, a previous patient of mine, who has since passed away,” explains Dr. Cresswell, “and has proved crucial in facilitating our weekly music and movement sessions. It also helps us with events, for example, an upcoming public event about music and brain wellness with a choir from a local secondary school.

“I think the BC Brain Wellness Program is a way to do something novel, that extends boundaries and connects across disciplines while connecting across people such as researchers, clinicians, and brain users. It has the potential to empower patients, which is crucial, because brain conditions, neurodegenerative brain conditions, especially, are rising exponentially.”

Harkening back to the piano, as a symbol of the interdisciplinary approach to brain health, Silke Cresswell adds, “I have one patient, he’s in the psychiatry ward in treatment for psychosis and is also a professional pianist. He is absolutely an amazing player, and he has told me, on more than one occasion, ‘this piano is my lifeline.’”