Aging and Memory: Memory Gets a Boost at Reynolds Institute on Aging

Ben Boulden

Neuropsychologist Denise Compton, Ph.D., helps patients

Every day can be a struggle for a person with memory problems. But there’s help at the Walker Memory Center in UAMS’ Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

“Once we have arrived at a diagnosis, we share it with the family members, but we don’t just let them go,” said Jeanne Wei, M.D., Ph.D., the institute’s executive director.

“We don’t say ‘you failed the memory test and have dementia, goodbye.’ We want to help the patient as well as the whole family. We look for ways to improve the patient’s function, such as through cognitive development therapy training; how do you maintain, improve, keep going.”

We want to help the patient as well as the whole family.Jeanne Wei, M.D., Ph.D.

Denise Compton, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the institute, recounted the story of a patient who was a little younger than typical, and who was having memory problems and behavioral issues that were making her family’s life difficult. A community psychiatrist had offered a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment.

When this patient and patient’s family came to the institute’s Memory Center, they first met with a neurologist Mark Pippenger, M.D., and then with Compton. When Compton performed a neuropsychological evaluation, it showed the patient had progressed from mild cognitive impairment to dementia and needed to quit working. Further testing showed the patient needed to quit driving.

The Memory Center’s social work staff assisted in processing disability, financial assistance and access to long-term care insurance. The faculty and staff provided clear explanations of the disease and hands-on suggestions for quality care of the patient at home.

Because of the patient’s numerous difficulties, such as weakness and falling, the Memory Center was also able to provide physical therapy and occupational therapy. They provided information to local services and programs for additional assistance, including access to the institute’s Schmieding Caregiver Training Program that provides training to caregivers to allow patients to remain in their home longer.

New innovative methods of assessment are being established to more accurately diagnose each patient. “We are starting to revisit and re-examine the norms,” Wei said.

During an evaluation, clinicians look at how well they are functioning day-to-day and whether any memory loss is simply attributable to the normal aging process. Neurologists and neuropsychologists now believe that mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia may be stable in a patient for a few years.

“What makes this Memory Center unique is that we treat the whole patient and the whole surrounding environment of the patient,” Wei said. “For instance, if a patient has high blood pressure or diabetes, these conditions are major risk factors for stroke, which will contribute to memory loss, so treat those conditions as well.”