As the population of the United States ages, the need for senior care solutions will continue to grow. Diseases such as Alzheimer's that are commonly associated with aging are going to put an increased demand for a specialized area of healthcare - geriatrics. In order to deepen the knowledge, understanding and interest in Alzheimer's in future doctors, the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has begun pairing up first year med students with patients receiving Alzheimer's care.
The program, which hopes to increase awareness of the disease while reducing the stigma that surrounds memory loss, has so far proven successful. The Buddy Program, as it is called, has produced 167 pairs and has benefited both the students and their mentors. For students, they are able to experience the struggles faced by Alzheimer's patients, their families and their caregivers through a weekly meeting where they can talk with them about their experiences or challenges with the disease. As they learn about the disease through their research and studies, medical students are able to see first hand how the disease progresses and what patients are still capable of doing, feeling or understanding. The mentors, too, benefit from the program. Not only does it give them an additional opportunity for socializing, which is important for dementia patients, it also gives them a purpose and sense of control at a time when they are losing their independence.