Ashoka Fellow

In 2013, Bénédicte Défontaines was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship

There are only 2,000 neurologists to deal with over a million aging people with cognitive diseases and no history of managed care in France, which leads to huge bottlenecks in the healthcare system and terrible social and psychological consequences for patients and their families. By creating a radically new chain of intervention that starts at the early signs of the disease, Bénédicte Défontaines is giving patients, families, and medical professionals the tools to humanely manage situations, and is empowering society to mitigate the risks and costs associated with cognitive diseases.


To empower patients and their families to manage the fifteen years over which cognitive diseases progressively take over patients’ lives, Bénédicte has designed and launched the first integrated value chain of early detection, psychological support, risk prevention, and medical care. In doing so, she is breaking with an over-burdened system that only detects the disease at an advanced stage and can only offer palliative care, and adding an extra ten years for patients and families to prepare psychologically, manage risks, and make choices about how to manage their condition.

Bénédicte is indeed transforming a fully-medical, hospital-based approach of cognitive disease care by engaging a broad range of medical and non-medical professionals. As such, she is training family physicians and pharmacists to detect early signs of cognitive degradation; bringing in neuropsychologists to run short, light tests outside of the hospital and confirm the risk of a disease; only involving neurologists and medical institutions when necessary; and offering patients and families a broad range of psychological and preparedness support to strengthen their resilience. She is also leveraging telemedicine technology to make her solution available to people in rural areas and “medical deserts.” Thus, she is exponentially multiplying the capacity and quality of the healthcare system to deal with a growing need.

Bénédicte keeps patients’ and caregivers’ experiences and needs in the center of her model throughout this value chain, as cognitive diseases remain “taboo” and contribute to isolation and suffering. E.g. studies show that caregivers’ life expectancy is on average ten years shorter than that of the general population. Bénédicte recognizes their challenges, offers them a platform of expression and provides them with adapted solutions and support. She also ensures that her approach is available to all by ensuring it is reimbursed by the national medical insurance scheme and by developing specific, culturally and language-sensitive approaches for low-income, illiterate, and immigrant populations.

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