Hospital-Based Memory Clinics

Hospital-based memory clinics often see advanced and unusual dementia cases (progressive aphasia or frontotemporal lobar degeneration, for example). Patients need a referral, and the wait times can be long (five months for the memory clinic at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at the Toronto General Hospital). While the family doctor will make the referral, it’s a good idea for caregivers to call clinics as well.

My role is to care for the caregivers.

It’s important to ask if there is a “cancellation list” and to make sure you get your loved one’s name on that. It’s also important not to wait until your situation is dire.

“Unfortunately, people still think these are illnesses of aging. When you’re repeating yourself or calling your children four or five times a day, that’s not aging,” says Tartaglia. “That gets missed for a year or two or three, or even 10 sometimes. So when patients get here, they’re often so advanced, we can hardly do an assessment at all.”

Once that assessment, including cognitive testing and various brain scans, is done, the patient has access to the clinic resources, starting with the staff social worker, “she’s kind of like part of our treatment plan,” says Tartaglia.

Her name is Maria Martinez and she helps patients find treatment outside the clinic, within the larger health care system. “People can’t sit around all day and watch TV—it’s actually really bad for your brain,” says Tartaglia, who prescribes exercise for all her patients. “Older dementia patients need to get into seniors programs,” she says.

Martinez’s job is a dual one: patient advocate with CCAC and other agencies (“sometimes I have to advocate very strongly to get patients the services they need, and other times it’s easy,” she says), and family support. “The caregiver in our clinic is as important as the patient, and my role is to care for the caregivers.”

That is done by arranging PSWs, helping with long-term care choices, and making connections to the local Alzheimer’s Society and other agencies.

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Jasmine Miller

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