Mar 31, 2012

When Our Professionals Have Alzheimer's, What Are the Right Steps?

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Max Wallack
Below is an email I received this week that raises some very interesting questions about recognizing dementia in professionals that hold jobs that have important impacts on people’s lives. Not only is it important to think about whether people should be removed from their positions, but also how this should take place. 

 I am interested to know what the readers of the Alzheimer’s Reading Room think about this.

Hi Max,

I have witnessed some frightening observations amongst 2 doctors recently, and have been pondering the question: When should doctors be "removed" from practicing if they are exhibiting signs of AD?

Here are 2 examples:

My daughter needed a "well visit and check up @ 2 years old. I brought her to MY pediatric group (a practice containing 6 MDs - 3 of whom are the original doctors when I was a child, they are ~ 70-85 years old.) I was very aware of the vaccination schedule and I had copies of her records with me. I was also aware that the 2 year old "well check up" requires NO vaccinations. My wonderful pediatrician examined my daughter and said "Oh she is 2 years old now, she is lucky, today she'll not receive any shots :-). He then checked her heart, and said, "how old is she now?" When I told him, he said, oh she'll get away w/o shots today. After he palpated her belly, and examined her gait, he then said, "I am going to prepare a pneumonia vaccine for her." I mentioned she received her pneumonia vaccine @ 9 months."

(The sad part, is that he was such a sweet, compassionate doctor, whom I saw for 18 years, but clearly something "was up".) Is this a red flag? My husband said that something was definitely wrong with him...)

The other example involves our vet. The doctor has been in practice for 45 years. Again, an amazing vet, however, he made several grave errors that could have been very dangerous. Our cat has lymphoma, diabetes and pancreatitis. It would be too lengthy to go into detail, however, he forgot multiple important items including the fact that he just administered insulin to the cat. He mentioned that he will give Blackie 2 units of Lantus insulin, whereas I needed to "remind" him that he already gave it to him!

Could it be that the doctors were just having an "off" day? I know there are millions of octogenarians etc, that are very sharp and lucid who are still practicing. I actually prefer "old timers" who are seasoned with years of experience!

I know your next question would be: Has this happened many times? In regards to H's doctor, I truthfully, used different doctors since that incident. Blackie's vet, I still use, but he hasn't made errors of that magnitude again, but is still unaware of his gender, and repeats questions which were already answered.
Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room