May 2, 2011

Geriatric Psychiatrist is “Immersed in the Fabric of Life” for Alzheimer’s Patients and Their Caregivers

“Why do they send buses of psychologists to a high school every time there’s a tragedy, but here, where death is constant, there only a brief memorial service and cookies?”...
By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Marc E. Agronin, a Geriatric Psychiatrist in Southeast Florida, is responsible for 3,700 patients, the largest Geriatric Psychiatry practice in the nation. I consider him to be a role model for the kind of Geriatric Psychiatrist I hope to become.

Dr. Agronin, 45, is a salaried staff member for the Miami Jewish Health Systems. That means that he has no “billing rate” which hurries him on from one patient to another. He works as his wanders the halls and gardens of the facility’s campus. He becomes the friend of his patients. He is equally available to the cognitively-impaired residents and to their caregivers. He is available for support to former caregivers whose spouses have passed away.

Dr. Agronin realizes that depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders often accompany old age. Yet, although research shows that behavioral and group therapy is shown beneficial to this group, these treatments are rarely tried. In Dr. Agronin’s experiences, group therapy is often very worthwhile because, “the patients often benefit from the insights of their peers.”

The reality is that treatment based on talking, rather than medical procedures, has a lower Medicare reimbursement rate. In these difficult economic times, fewer and fewer doctors are entering Geriatric Psychiatry. It is a field that is time-intensive, but not financially rewarding. Even Dr. Anderson, the incoming President of the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists, made this point at his recent address to that society’s members.

Gary Kennedy, the director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx says psychological care is “equally if not more important than” medical care for aging Americans.

Dr. Agronin says that older people are not all unhappy. He cautions, “We have to be very careful in the assumptions we make and not project our own fears of aging. Their lives can be way better than we imagine.”

YES! We on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, know there is much “MORE THERE.”

One resident, 78 year old Ms. Sachs, pointed out the lack of psychological support for seniors, “Why do they send buses of psychologists to a high school every time there’s a tragedy, but here, where death is constant, there only a brief memorial service and cookies?”

Keep up the great work, Dr. Agronin! There is a new group of aspiring Geriatric Psychiatrists growing up that will model their care after yours. I am one of them.
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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More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: The Experts’ Guide to the Best Diag­no­sis and Treat­ment for Mem­ory Prob­lems
The 36-Hour Day A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease

Original content Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room