A recent study shows a startling disconnect between seniors and primary care doctors when it comes to memory issues.

And already, leaders at one local health care system say they’re launching a new care model to deal with the problem.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report, only 1 in 7 seniors (16%) say they receive regular assessments for memory or thinking issues.

“There’s a disconnect between seniors and their primary care providers when it comes to cognitive assessments and having conversations about cognitive decline or memory issues,” said Ellie Hallen, the Neuroscience Program and Operations Manager at Allina Health.

Hallen said that’s why Allina Health has created a new care model to deal with the problem. The health care system launched a pilot of the program at three clinics one year ago; they plan to roll out the program at the system’s remaining clinics within the next couple years.

“That empowers our primary care team to be able to screen, diagnose and manage patients with Alzheimer’s and related dementias,” Hallen said, adding that the screening involves a short test that can trigger follow-up care.

“There’s a stigma around dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, so patients and family members are often really hesitant to bring it up because they don’t want that diagnosis,” she said.

But she noted, having the conversation sooner rather than later could make all the difference for the patients and their families.

“So that the patient can be involved in super-important conversations about their future and make plans with their families so that they can live well with their diagnosis throughout their journey,” she said.

“Everybody’s touched by this disease, whether they know a neighbor or a loved one, and there are so many people that if they can get a diagnosis and establish a plan for how to move forward, the world will be a better place,” she said.

ONE MAN’S JOURNEY

Ron Levitus decided to deal with his diagnosis right from the beginning. The 69-year-old father of three and grandfather of two recalled when he brought up what he noticed was a recurring issue with his primary care doctor.

“As I chatted with him, I had one of these moments when I couldn’t finish the sentence. I said to him, ‘you know, this happens to me quite a bit, you know, where I want to say something,’” he said.

Prompting that conversation led Levitus to more examinations and ultimately, a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI.

“I had to say something, doctors can’t hold a stethoscope to your chest and hear it,” he said.

Today, Ron continues to thrive at home with his wife, Marie. And while he notices slight changes, he’s also embracing this chapter of life that includes his daughters’ marriages and the arrivals of grandchildren. For him, it’s proof that a diagnosis does not define him.

“You continue to be a dad, you continue to be a grandpa and a husband,” said KARE 11’s Karla Hult, to which Levitus responded: “As long as I can. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what it’s about.”

RESOURCES

To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association – and the resources they offer individuals or families who worry they may be on the Alzheimer’s journey – just go to: https://www.alz.org/mnnd