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Community Conversations Café at 67th Street Library: Connecting Scientists and Society

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Authors: ​Alexander Mouyios & Sonali Majumdar, PhD

 

community conversations

Recently, The New York Public Library launched an extensive new pilot series in select library branches across three boroughs. The brand new Community Conversations initiative at The New York Public Library introduces a space for discussion on local topics that matter most to you.

Here’s what you can expect (when you participate) as  Community Conversations are launched in your neighborhood!:

  1. Connect with your neighbors. Build new relationships in your area by taking the time to talk with other community members about local issues.

  2. Stay informed. Get accurate information and build your knowledge around timely neighborhood topics.

  3. Participate in the unique culture of your neighborhood. Speak up and listen in the context of a local dialogue that tells your community’s complex story. Our libraries are open spaces for all sides of an issue to be discussed. When you attend a conversation in your community, you’re sharing an important perspective.

On October 25th, 67th Street Library introduced our first of three conversations on health topics in partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering Postdoctoral Association and New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Here’s a recap and a bit about what Community Conversations Café means to 67th Street branch and partners:


 

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Community Conversations Café serves as a platform of communication between scientific and non-scientific community in the Upper East Side. The scientific community comprises of doctoral and postdoctoral scientists, and clinicians from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, who study some aspect of healthcare topics being discussed in each event. The goal of the program is for both sections to learn from each other through organic, informed and respectful exchange.

"Everybody participated - good hearing different inputs"

"Excellent stimulating discussion that was quite informative"

-Anonymous Participant Feedback

 

How were the topics chosen?

By conferring with nearby libraries that hosted health events, as well as NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, the 67th Street Library and its partners (Memorial Sloan Kettering Postdoctoral Association and New York-Presbyterian), we were able to find common topics could also be tailored to attendees' specific requests.

  • Ground rules and mediation helped structure and facilitate the discussion

The first topic was Mental Health & Aging

All attendees started by writing which aspects of mental health they wanted to focus on- e.g. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s. We distributed facts sheets outlining some basics about Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disorders that were compiled from National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Challenges associated with age-related mental health

Community members shared some startling challenges faced by the elderly population, especially those grappling with mental health issues, due to societal attitudes. These could stem from disrespect or lack of understanding of various age-related mental health issues. Educating youth at schools about aging and mental health, and active discussions on attentiveness and thoughtfulness towards older community members were some suggestions that made the rounds. Furthermore, attendees shared personal stories highlighting the challenges while caring for family members with Alzheimer’s. Some overarching challenges ranged from discrepancies in standards of care-giving in nursing homes to generic nursing practices that fail to account for the heterogeneity in different mental health conditions.

As a PhD student, it’s easy to lose focus on the big picture and social impact of our research. Talking with members of the community, I realized there was lot of information about aging and neurodegenerative diseases which scientists take for granted but which the public doesn’t know about, which is all the more reason to hold open dialogue between scientists and the public. Sometimes they asked questions to which I didn’t even know the answers, which showed how complicated the challenges of biomedical research and medicine for everyone, even scientists. Overall, it was learning experience on both sides and a good opportunity for scientists to really hear people’s stories and concerns about health issues. -Joanna Luo, Scientist at Weill Cornell Medicine

Science underlying neurodegeneration

Scientists began by explaining that dementia is a broad umbrella term that could be caused by one of many different underlying pathologies. Based on questions from the community, biological basis of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lewy Bodies were further discussed. Scientists shared the gamut of research underway, for example - modeling these disorders in mice to understand the biological basis linked to different pathological and behavioral consequences. Finally, this led to discussions on the kind of therapies that are in clinical trials or under further investigation. For instance, use of stem cells to mimic brain cells in order to replenish the dying cells and ameliorate the conditions.

The event really helped me to understand concerns about aging and mental health. I learned a great deal about the most common challenges faced as people age, and what many people, ideally, would like from the healthcare sector in order to help them meet those challenges. Among the most frequently discussed topics were forms of dementia, the burdens that they place on patients and caregivers, and potential medical advances might alleviate those burdens. It was very informative as a scientist to hear participants' thoughts on these matters. - Ryan Smith, Scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

 

As our community recognizes difficult health issues that affect those around us, it is imperative that we are able to discuss important health-related matters in a neutral space. Join your peers and scientific/medical experts while we delve into topics such as Mental health & Aging (October 25), Obesity & Nutrition (November 16), and Depression & Anxiety (December 14).

These programs are meant to iron out fears, inform participants in a meaningful and constructive way, discuss current scientific endeavors in our community, shed light on the unknown, and dispel misinformation.

If you enjoyed this post consider attending a future event! Also, feel free to comment below on any topics you may want to see discussed at your local library!

 

Future Conversation Topics @ 67th Street Library:

Obesity & Nutrition

Thursday, November 16, 5:30 PM

 

Depression & Anxiety

Thursday, December 14, 5:30 PM

 
 

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