Jan 26, 2010

Teaching Young Physicians to Recognize Early Signs of Dementia

The PAIRS program (Partnering in Alzheimer’s Instruction Research Study) is an educational program for medical students and patients with early stage Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment.....
By Max Wallack

We all know how important it is that young physicians be trained to identify early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I wanted to share with you one program that is taking the right steps to ensure that the doctors they graduate are both knowledgeable and empathetic to these patients and their caregivers.

From the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s

PAIRS Program

The PAIRS program (Partnering in Alzheimer’s Instruction Research Study) is an educational program for medical students and patients with early stage Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment. PAIRS is a replication of the highly successful Northwestern University Buddy Program.

The program provides first-year medical students with the opportunity to informally interact with patients in order to increase their knowledge of Alzheimer’s and improve their attitudes about Alzheimer’s. The PAIRS program is generously funded in part by the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

The goals of the program are:

  • To educate medical students about Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive impairment
  • To familiarize students with the care and support-related issues confronted by Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
  • To improve student communication skills when interacting with individuals with cognitive impairment
  • To introduce students to research and career opportunities in geriatrics, neurology, and related fields
  • To provide individuals with Alzheimer’s and related cognitive impairment with the opportunity for informal interaction with a medical student

Interested students and patients will be matched in the fall of each academic year, and they will meet for 4 hours per month for social interactions throughout the academic year. Students will attend one-hour monthly meetings with other student participants and study staff.

Who is eligible to participate?

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • People with a diagnosis of early-stage Alzheimer’s or a related cognitive impairment
  • People with an interest in having regular social interactions with a medical student
  • People with a caregiver who can be actively involved in the program
  • People who can commit to meeting with a medical student for 4 hours per month
  • People with no functional limitations that would require assistance/supervision
Medical Students:
  • Students who are entering their first year at the Boston University School of Medicine
  • Students with an interest in developing a relationship with an older adult with early stage Alzheimer’s disease
  • Students who are able to participate in a 3-hour orientation session and are able to attend a 1-hour monthly lunch session
  • Students who are able to maintain a 4-hour per month commitment to activities with their buddies and complete journal entries at the end of each interaction with their buddies

What happens in the program?

The PAIRS program will be offered each academic year. Interested students will be asked to complete an application at the conclusion of an open house session hosted by the Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Selected students will then be asked to attend a 3-hour orientation on Alzheimer’s disease and related illnesses. After completing orientation, students will be matched with their buddy. It will be the student’s responsibility for initiating contact with their buddies, and students must commit 4 hours per month for buddy activities.

Students will also be required to attend 1-hour monthly program meetings with PAIRS program staff and complete journal entries following each interaction with their buddy. Students will be reimbursed for PAIRS program-related activities and transportation.

Patients with early Alzheimer’s disease will be selected through the BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center referral database and subsequently interviewed with their caregiver or family member by clinicians from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Selected individuals will be notified and matched with a medical student for the duration of the academic year. Patients will be required to commit 4 hours per month to activities with the student.
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Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude Finkelstein, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER , a 501(c.)3 charitable organization. PUZZLES TO REMEMBER is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and other institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room