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Image: MGH blog - Seeing the human side of memory loss - Marv and Elaine pictured

Seeing the human side of memory loss

HealthPartners pairs medical students with patients so future doctors will know what it means to live with dementia

When navigating the roads, Marv can get almost anywhere he needs to go with the help of his wife, Elaine. But for Marv, driving is about more than just reaching his destination. His ability to drive is also a mile marker on his journey with dementia.

“The eventual loss of driving will not be sad because I can’t drive,” Marv said. “Rather, it will be a huge marker in my mental and physical decline.” Marv was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment 5 years ago. Since then, he journals almost daily. He does it not only to tell others what he is experiencing, but to encourage himself, too.

“I need to accept that I can’t do most of the things that I planned to do in retirement. But I have found alternatives that enhance my life,” Marv said. “I know things will change in the future. But I will let the future worry about itself and not let it consume me.”

Partners in Dementia

As part of Marv’s treatment, he and Elaine have been involved in HealthPartners’ Partners in Dementia program. The program pairs first-year medical students and patients with memory disorders. The goal is to improve each student’s ability to diagnose and develop a care plan.

“We want physicians to be able to diagnose these conditions early,” said Michael Rosenbloom, MD, Clinical Director of HealthPartners Center for Memory & Aging. “That’s important so that diagnoses are made at a stage where patients can make some decisions for themselves.”

This year, there are 20 student and patient pairs in the Partners in Dementia program. Medical students spend 4 hours each month with their patient partners. They take this time to discuss the impact of the disease, including new limitations. Students also keep a journal to reflect on their time together.

The program aims to get more medical students pursuing careers in dementia treatment. Right now, Dr. Rosenbloom says very few do. He says this is partially because the disease is very complex and each care plan is unique.

“Much of the care for dementia is not drug-based, but social,” Dr. Rosenbloom said. “When it comes to care for memory loss, social interactions are as impactful, if not more, than any drug that is prescribed.”

This is why HealthPartners is training future doctors to see patients like Marv for more than just their disease and its symptoms. Instead, they are being taught to look at the human side of their patients. Because as Marv says, “We are still here, we just have faulty communication systems.”

Meet Marv, Elaine and their medical student partner, Mishy Roy

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