Specialized Care at a Memory Clinic

Specialized Care at a Memory Clinic

Associate Editor

Memory Clinics are the gateway to dementia-related health care services.

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You’ll want to put yourselves into these people’s hands.

Team Approach

Managing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias often requires more specialized care than many family doctors offer.

Resource: eCareDiary: manage appointments, track medications and get reminders, organize important documents, coordinate care among family members

Memory clinics were designed to offer health care services from multiple disciplines to those living with dementia. From neurologists and geriatricians to speech therapists and social workers, this team approach to care was first introduced in the 1980s, often at major teaching hospitals.

The main goal of memory clinics is an early diagnosis so that intervention or treatment can also happen early.

Clinic staff conduct cognitive testing, prescribe and monitor medications, but they doesn’t replace a patient’s primary health care provider. Clinics are a supplement to that care, and patients should continue to see their GP even as they access the services of a memory clinic.

The ongoing purpose of the clinic is to facilitate access to other community resources — education, home care, day programs, etc.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but for patients and their caregivers, that service will make living with the disease easier.

What is a Memory Clinic?

According to a 2007 report out of the London School of Economics, Dementia: International Comparisons, “memory clinics of some sort were identified in all the countries studied [12 high-income ones in Europe and North America] although there is no precise definition of what constitutes a memory clinic.”

In Canada, however, memory clinics have some consistency and can be characterized as a team of experts working under one roof to focus on serving the medical needs of those with cognitive impairments.

The team is usually led by a specialist (gerontologist, geriatrician, neurologist, etc.) or GP, along with what are called “interdisciplinary practitioners.”

Those often include nurses, social workers and specialized health care providers, such as occupational therapists. In some clinics, they might also include a speech pathologist, psychologist, pharmacist and others, depending on the particular focus of that clinic and its director.

Besides this specialist-practice model, many memory clinics are hospital-based; both types require a referral from a GP, but a growing number of memory clinics are being offered by GPs themselves, from within their family practices.

Regardless of the location or setup, memory clinics are — for caregiver and patient alike — a gateway to dementia-related resources within the Canadian health care system.

But, usually, those with concerns about their cognition and memory simply report their symptoms to their GP.

Some GPs will order scans and other tests and may make a diagnosis, but because dementia, especially in the early stages, can be tough to confirm, many GPs make referrals to memory clinics for that confirmation.

“When we see a patient, we take a full history of their complaint [memory and cognition] and most of the time I will order an MRI,” says Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, director of The Memory Clinic at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at the Toronto General Hospital. Brain imaging can show physical factors that explain symptoms — a small or shrunken hippocampus, for example, is often a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

A diagnosis of dementia can be made within a few visits to a memory clinic, and a patient could then continue being monitored and treated by their GP alone. The patient who stays with the memory clinic, however, will access greater and more specialized services.

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About the author

Jasmine Miller

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