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Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease: Methodist GEM Clinic Guides Families Through the Journey

Today's Medicine

When Evie Harriman, 88, began having memory problems, her family was quick to act.

She had always told her husband, Dick, 88, and her daughters that she was concerned about issues associated with aging. As symptoms emerged, Evie and her family agreed that she should be evaluated. But where?

One of her daughters, Cindy Weston, is a certified nurse anesthetist for Methodist. She knew that Dr. Rebecca Reilly specialized in geriatrics and could help.

Cindy made the call to the Geriatric Evaluation and Management (GEM) Clinic at Methodist Hospital, starting her mother on the path toward the specialized care that so many seniors need.

GEM Clinic offers solutions for seniors

The GEM Clinic assists older adults going through age-related changes, particularly conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s an in-depth process that can begin with a referral from a patient, family member, friend, doctor or other care provider. It includes:

  • A home visit from a nurse who gathers a patient’s medical background and evaluates his or her safety at home.
  • A meeting with a geriatrics-trained doctor (either Dr. Reilly or Dr. Abelardo Cruz), a geriatric neuropsychologist and a social worker to further evaluate a patient’s health and needs while offering family members education and support. If necessary, more in-depth cognitive testing is done.
  • A conference with the patient and family where evaluation results, diagnoses and treatment recommendations are discussed.
  • Follow-up visits at regular intervals with a doctor or nurse practitioner as the patient ages and needs evolve.
Dr. Rebecca Reilly, medical director of the Geriatric Evaluation and Management (GEM) Clinic at Methodist Hospital
Dr. Rebecca Reilly, medical director of the GEM Clinic

The clinic is an important part of Methodist’s effort to create systemwide solutions for older adults. It works closely with other resources like Balance and Fall Physical Therapy and the Driver Rehabilitation program.

Dr. Reilly says that everyone, not just Methodist staff, has an important role to play in caring for the elderly.

“I’ve always said that geriatrics is a team sport,” she said. “Not just our team here, but with the patient and the family, too, because the diseases that we deal with most often are really devastating and affect all the facets of a person’s life.”

She added: “I really prefer to be able to have dialogues with patients and families because one person with memory loss is not like another person with memory loss.”

Part of a patient’s support system

Between Cindy, Dick and the couple’s other three daughters, Evie has a strong support system. Still, the GEM Clinic has been invaluable to the family.

“It’s holistic. That’s what I thought was very helpful,” Cindy said. “I’m in health care, but geriatrics is not my specialty. It’s nice to have someone guide you through the journey.”

The clinic has provided new strategies that address Evie’s evolving challenges, evaluation for Dick after a minor fender bender and help with discussions about end-of-life decisions.

“Nobody wants to have those conversations, and a lot of times people avoid them,” Cindy said. “I’m glad that we haven’t.”

Don’t wait to act

Acting early is key to improving quality of life for dementia patients, Dr. Reilly said. 

It’s a good idea to start with a visit to a primary care provider because some health problems can affect a person’s cognition. The GEM Clinic evaluation aims to rule out such issues before making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Even then, there are medications that can often slow a patient’s decline.

“The majority of the time, people tell us what a relief it is to come in and find out that there’s a name for this and a process that allows us to help them,” Dr. Reilly said.

“We’re a team”

For Evie and her family, appointments at the clinic are becoming more frequent as her dementia has progressed. Dick underwent evaluation as well; he was cleared to return to his usual activities but advised to return for a follow-up in a year.

Regardless of the family’s challenges, Dr. Reilly and the GEM Clinic staff have been there.

“She really takes the time to try to understand where we are,” Dick said. “She’s never in a hurry. She will answer any questions. All questions.”

That collaborative environment is one of the keys to the clinic’s success.

“It is rewarding in that I really feel like we’re a team trying to support Evie – my staff and her family,” Dr. Reilly said.

To learn more about the Methodist Geriatric Evaluation and Management Clinic or to schedule an appointment, call 402-354-3152.

Patrick Smith

About the Author:

Patrick Smith, a content strategist for Methodist Health System, has over a decade of experience writing and editing for newspapers and other publications. He enjoys connecting with people and sharing stories that illustrate Methodist's "Meaning of Care."

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