Brain Fair Helps Visitors Learn About Neurological Diseases

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At the 2017 Brain Health Fair, a little girl slipped a pair of flippers one her feet, exploring one of the many interactive exhibits. “Mommy, this is what it feels like to walk with MS,” she said as she entered the MS Inside Out Virtual Reality Simulation, that helps visitors understand what it is like to live everyday life with a neurodegenerative disease. “Mommy, this is what it must be like,” she continued.

Planned by the American Academy of Neurology Institute (AAN) and local neurologists, the seventh annual Brain Health Fair made its way to the Boston Exhibition and Convention Center for the first time this past weekend. Each year, the AAN plans the fair as the general public’s complement to their seven-day meeting, at which 13,000 neurologists meet for educational courses and scientific sessions.

“The goal of the event is to educate the general public about what neurology is,” said Wendy Vokaty, a AAN Staff Planning Workgroup member. “It’s really all about giving resources to the general public and caregivers, and allowing people to get access to neurologists.”

Located in the Education Zone, “Ask the Neurologist Booths” were set up for visitors with questions regarding their own or loved one’s neurodegenerative diseases. Specialists in various diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, were available to speak with individuals in an informal, non-consultation setting.

Geared toward families, the Brain Health Fair featured interactive and sense-stimulating booths in which children could learn about neuroscience in a hands-on environment. Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the “Brain Guy” booth gave visitors the opportunity to hold real human and animal brains (don’t worry, they wore gloves). Through virtual headsets, visitors could feel the symptoms of fatigue, weakness, and dizziness associated with multiple sclerosis. If fair-goers needed to give their brains a break, trained service dalmatians were there to play. Visitors could learn about the different functions of the brain in blow-up AmeriBrain, the world’s most interactive 20-foot walkthrough brain.

In addition to the fun and games, top physicians got serious on the stage and gave speeches on topics of their given expertise. The keynote speaker, Marty Samuels, discussed the neurological method and how we overlook the function of a healthy brain in our moment-to-moment actions.

“The nervous system influences every thought you take, every breath you breathe,” Samuels said.

Other notable speakers included Robert Stern on long-term consequences of hits to the head in sports, Rosie Doherty on dreaming big and living a fulfilling life even with a nervous system disorder, and Marie Pasinski on outsmarting stress.

“We’d like to expand to make this even more appealing to schools and kids,” Vokaty said. “To allow this to become part of their educational curriculum and a hope to foster an interest in the field of neurology in these kids.”

While the fair has its sights set on L.A. next year, and will then continue to bounce from city to city, Vokaty promised that Boston will be one of the lucky few to get a repeat visit.

“Everyone kept asking if we could come back and do it again,” Vokaty said. “We are booked out about ten years in advance, but I know we are coming back to Boston.”

Regardless of their locations, all Brain Health Fairs share a uniting vision.

“We hope people will learn how powerful the brain is and how to take care of it,” Vokaty said.

Featured Image by Madison Semarjian / For the Heights

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