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Medical students mentored by people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease

July 18, 2013
by Sandra Hoban, Managing Editor
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Pairing medical students with people living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can expand knowledge of the disease and foster sensitivity and empathy, according to new data presented at the 2013 Alzheimer Association International Conference in Boston.

The Buddy Program, developed at Northwestern University Alzheimer’s Disease Center in 1998, pairs a first-year medical student with an individual with early-stage AD for one year of meetings, learning programs and enjoyable activities. The student is required to keep of journal of his experiences and insights. Students expand their knowledge of the research and practices related to AD through lectures and meetings. Meanwhile, their “buddies” with early-stage AD share their experiences and challenges with the future doctors. Through firsthand experience and education, the student not only learns about AD but acquires an empathetic, real-world relationship to build upon.

“We want to expand future physicians’ knowledge of, interest in and attitudes toward Alzheimer’s and dementia in order to increase the number of physicians capable of caring effectively and compassionately for patients with these diseases and their families,” Darby Morhardt, MSW, LCSW, said in a release about the presentation. Because of the steadily increasing senior population, the American Geriatrics Society projects that nearly 30,000 geriatricians will be needed by 2030.

Variations of the Buddy Program have been replicated at Boston University (Massachusetts), Dartmouth College (New Hampshire) and Washington University (Missouri).

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