Walking into the Memory Disorder Clinic at the Roskamp Institute one might ask “Why work with Alzheimer’s patients and their families?” The answers are manyfold. One of the most rewarding aspects of working with Alzheimer’s patients is that they are most commonly our oldest citizens who have 60, 70 or 80 years of life experience behind them many of them have served their country in one form or another - frequently in the military but often times in businesses working for others or their own companies. Many of those serving in the armed forces have captivating stories. One visitor to the clinic had parachuted into three war zones Normandy, the “boot” of Italy, and Germany. Remembering this tale this gentleman was most afraid of being shot by the Russians! Of course being able to recall these old memories is not unusual for Alzheimer disease suffers. In fact the tendency to reminisce sometimes becomes a prominent feature of the disorder. Most caregivers are initially concerned by another aspect of the disorder namely the forgetfulness for recently acquired or presented information. Such things as recent visits recent phone calls or recent conversations and events may not be remembered either in part or in full. This distressing symptom interferes with social activities and is a progressive aspect of the disease. Therefore one of the most rewarding aspect of working with Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families is being able to convey to them the several treatment options that are available. This includes, as well as those drugs approved by the FDA, new and experimental treatments including those that are being developed by the Roskamp Institute itself.
Providing hope for patients and their families is a critical part of interfacing with them. In addition helping families to come to terms with a disorder that can impact many aspects of their love ones’ lives (including social interactions, pastimes and sports, financial transactions and medical legal issues) enables families to make the necessary adjustments to deal with the condition. Naturally a particularly satisfying interaction can occur when certain elements of a patient’s health can be altered to improve the outcome once a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has been made. For instance we know that cardio-vascular health interacts critically with Alzheimer’s disease and aversion of cerebrovascular events (such as small strokes or transient ischemic attacks) has a highly beneficial effect on the outcome of Alzheimer’s patients. In addition other conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease can interact negatively with the disease. These and many other treatable causes of cognitive dysfunction appear at the Roskamp Memory Clinic and are regularly amenable to intervention. Sometimes previous diagnoses are found to be incorrect and memory loss may be completely reversible. For instance people suffering from normal pressure hydrocephalus have a condition that is completely amenable to surgical correction.
Another gratifying aspect of working with Alzheimer’s patients is being able to give their families and loved ones a clear indication of what the treatment options are and what the outcomes are likely to be. In addition family members are often concerned about their own risk for developing the disease it now being common knowledge that the disease has a familial aspect.
All in all there is much to recommend a profession working and caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Our elderly are frequently amongst our most valued citizens who have contributed to the prosperity and safety of subsequent generations. Continuing to work for their immediate care and finding new treatments to improve their long term prognosis are the premier interests of the Roskamp Institute’s researchers, physicians and clinicians.