It’s a statistic that we all know too well. More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s or a form of dementia, and the number is estimated to triple by 2050. Some universities are responding to these staggering numbers by instituting a “buddy” program, pairing medical students with dementia patients. Learn how the program is impacting the lives of patients and doctors while also increasing knowledge of the disease.
Doctors Seeing Beyond a Diagnosis
A handful of universities across the country have started partnering medical students with seniors who have Alzheimer’s. One program at Northwestern University has been pairing students and patients for over 16 years. “Buddies” are matched based on common interests and spend at least four hours a month together. Other universities such as Boston University, Dartmouth College, Washington University in St. Louis, and Harvard College have followed Northwestern’s example and have launched their own programs.
These programs are designed to help future doctors see beyond the Alzheimer’s diagnosis and become sensitive to the effects the disease has on the lives of patients. Buddy programs are breaking down the stigma that exists with the disease by bringing personal experiences to the medical practice. The personal experiences students have through the buddy program will hopefully help them become advocates for Alzheimer’s patients in their careers.
Patients Finding Purpose
While the program certainly helps potential doctors, “buddies” are also helping seniors with Alzheimer’s. The buddy experience helps patients to:
- Meet others with common interests
- Stay engaged in the community
- Find a sense of purpose
- Be active in the fight against Alzheimer’s
Changing the Future of Alzheimer’s Care
Darby Morhardt, program director at Northwestern University said that about 75% of students who participate in the buddy program go on to become doctors in fields that would work with Alzheimer’s patients.
Patients and doctors alike hope that the program will inspire a new generation to get involved with the fight against Alzheimer’s. At the very least, the program opens the eyes of new doctors to the challenges that Alzheimer’s patients and their families face on a daily basis, making them more sympathetic to the cause.
Has your loved one been in a program like this? We’d love to hear your personal experiences in the comments below.