Delivering quality medical care for persons with Alzheimer’s disease is, and will increasingly be, one of the most challenging responsibilities for physicians. An estimated 5.3 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. By the year 2050, this number is estimated to be 13.8 million (2016 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures, published by the Alzheimer’s Association).
In communities across the U.S., services available to persons with dementia and their families may include a confusing array of options such as assisted living, foster care, retirement homes, home care, care management services, respite care, day care as well as educational and support programs for families. Yet, doctors in training generally spend little or no time learning about these options.
Medical educators are now recognizing how important it is for doctors to know not only how to diagnose and medically treat illness but also to understand the larger social world that patients live in. In recognition of this broader role, OHSU has embarked on a transformation of its Undergraduate Medical Education curriculum.
The goals of the new curriculum are, as reported by Mark Richardson, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine, “to prepare healthcare professionals for the changing health care delivery and discovery environments, and to do so in ways that continue placing emphasis on self-directed and also include life-long and inter-professional education.”
The new curriculum has provided the opportunity for the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center to educate future doctors about community health and social care. During four two-week “intersessions” sandwiched between academic terms, 2nd year students will receive intensive experiences learning about four topics: cognitive impairment, cancer, infectious disease and pain.
During the cognitive impairment intersession, students will learn about a range of conditions that may affect brain function and memory including Alzheimer’s disease and other variants of dementia, and they will have the opportunity to learn about community resources available to serve them.
During the first intersession held in March 2016, students visited the Alzheimer’s Association and gained a perspective on Alzheimer’s disease as a global and public health concern and an appreciation for the key role of the Association in serving patients and families.
Following this session, the students divided into four groups visiting different types of care facilities:
- Providence ElderPlace
- Laurelhurst Day Center
- Glendoveer Residential Care and Day Center
- Emerson House Memory Care Residential Center
- Cedar Sinai Park Adult Day Services Center
The students also were introduced to the Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) a one-stop resource center that is available throughout the country and that can help families find services tailored to their particular needs. Doctors cannot know about all the community services available for their patients but seeing a sampling of service options and knowing that there are ADRCs to help families in need will go a long way towards their ability to provide support needed by persons with dementia and their families.
Linda Boise, Ph.D., M.P.H. is Director of Outreach, Recruitment and Education Core at the Layton Aging & Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
This article originally appeared in the The Layton Center’s newsletter, the Update, a biannual publication that features stories on Layton Center and national research, experiences of volunteers in some of our studies, and cognitive health. Subscribe here.