It is with great pleasure that I write my first Words from the President for the ASSBI newsletter. Before telling you about myself and what makes me tick, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Robyn Tate for her outstanding presidency during the past two years, steering ASSBI through turbulent waters in the past 18 months deftly and with great poise. One recognises a leader not by what they say but by how they react to the uncertainty and the unexpected; And Robyn has been, undoubtedly, a great ASSBI president and I hope to be able to follow her steps. My aim is to continue increasing ASSBI’s visibility in the Australasian landscape as a strong voice for brain injury, regardless of aetiology, and as a platform to promote excellence in applied research and interventions in the field.
At a time when many professional organisations are feeling the continuing impact of the pandemic, with many conferences and meetings cancelled, ASSBI has fared comparatively well. Yes, the 2020 Perth Annual meeting, which is one of the major sources of income for the society, had to be cancelled; however, our online training program and workshops have been very successful by all accounts and minimizing the financial impact of this cancellation on the society. Undoubtedly, this is due in great part to the tireless work of our Executive Officer, Margaret Eagers, together with the Continuing Education Committee, led by Barbra Zupan, which despite these difficulties managed to put together an outstanding program. This year, I am pleased to say that the conference will happen again. Indeed, ASSBI joins forces with the International Neuropsychological Society and the APS College of Clinical Neuropsychologists for what will be a momentous 2021 Annual meeting in Melbourne, with the opportunity to meet face-to-face with your fellow colleagues and friends, as well as remotely.
So, who is our new President? I am currently appointed Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Sydney, and director of FRONTIER, the frontotemporal dementia clinical research group based at the Brain & Mind Centre where I lead a research group of ~25 staff/clinicians/postdocs/students investigating early manifestations and progression of younger-onset dementia syndromes. As my name suggests, I am not from around here originally. Native of the land of Jean Piaget and Carl Gustav Jung and, for those following more recent history, Roger Federer. I completed my undergraduate studies in psychology at the University of Geneva. At a time where formal clinical training in neuropsychology was almost non-existent in Europe, I was accepted in the Masters program in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Melbourne and was lucky to train under the guidance of Michael Saling, Vicki Anderson, Steve Bowden and, on clinical placements, Anne Unkenstein. Two years of training has turned into a 30-year love story for this country and for neuropsychology, as well as cognitive and clinical neurosciences. In the past 15 years, my focus has been on frontotemporal dementia in its many forms (behavioural variant, language variants, motor presentations). Frontotemporal dementia is a complex disease caused by multiple brain pathologies leading to, sometimes, confusing clinical presentations. Generally emerging in people in their late 50s, it is not uncommonly confused with psychiatric conditions with a long delay to diagnosis and management (Indeed, who wants to think about dementia at that age?). Currently, the major challenges in the field are to improve early and accurate diagnosis and understand disease progression so we can inform patients and families better. My work is varied: In an attempt to reach these goals, I use convergent methodologies, which include behavioural, clinical, cognitive, neuroimaging, physiological, genetics and neuropathological investigations. Obviously, the ultimate aim will be to develop disease modifying treatments and a cure, although the road ahead is still long. In the meantime, we have also been focusing on developing interventions and management programs to address some of the disabling features of these diseases, as well as providing support to carers, families, and education to various scientific organisations and bodies.
I am very excited to start my tenure as ASSBI President. All in all, the society remains very healthy, despite the turbulent recent period. In addition, with difficult times come opportunities: opportunities to reflect on the identity of the society and chances to explore novel options to develop our activities and communicate with our membership and sister societies. I truly believe that the future is bright for ASSBI and I am looking forward to being part of this journey.
Looking forward to seeing you all in Melbourne next month
Olivier Piguet, President