Innovation in Action


Day of Innovation Graphic, Join us November 16, 2009
Virtual Brainstorming Sessions
Monday, November 16, 2009
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Frans Johansson
Author of the bestseller The Medici Effect

April 9, 2010
9:15 a.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

John Corvino, Ph.D.
Philosophy professor and "gay moralist"

April 20, 2010
7 p.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

Ted Rall
Nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist

May 3, 2010
7 p.m., Apollo Room, Student Union
Free and open to the public

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Wright State's Community Memory Clinic serves growing population

Although it had been more than a year since Sarah Koerner had traveled to New York to visit her grandfather, she never expected that he would no longer recognize her. An M.D. and doctor in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he went on to create his own medical practice and worked as the company doctor for Xerox as well. Following a series of mini-strokes, he had become depressed and sometimes angry, and would occasionally say inappropriate things in social situations, embarrassing Sarah's grandmother. As physical difficulties and further confusion set in, his decline worsened. During their last visit, he thought Sarah was his daughter.

Now a doctoral student in Wright State's School of Professional Psychology (SOPP), Sarah Koerner has dedicated herself to serving those who suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia, and their families. She is one of three students working with Jeffery Allen, Ph.D., founder of the Community Memory Clinic at the school's Ellis Institute in Dayton.

With its mission to serve the underserved, the Community Memory Clinic was developed to provide assessment and support for patients and their families affected by dementia.

"There is a documented shortage of services for individuals with memory problems," said Allen, who last year saw 60 patients with the help of one part-time doctoral student. "The patients we see, a third of whom are African American, often have complicated issues surrounding their disease. We try to demystify the disease for them."

Allen finds that awareness and understanding of symptoms, lack of trust with health care providers, accessibility, and affordability must often be overcome before he can effectively treat the patient and his or her caregivers. Often the language used to describe memory problems includes non-specific colloquialisms like "grandma is having one of her spells."

"Our initial effort to serve individuals with memory problems is an evaluation to rule out every other possible diagnosis," said Allen. "Electrolyte imbalance, even urinary tract infections, can impact cognitive skills. Our clinic receives tremendous support accomplishing this from Wright State's Boonshoft School of Medicine, particularly from Dr. Larry Lawhorne in the school's Department of Geriatric Medicine.

"Once we have determined that Alzheimer's or other dementia is at work, we assess how well the person is functioning in his or her day-to-day life," said Allen, who with colleague Eve Wolf, Ph.D., associate professor in SOPP, co-edited Innovations in Clinical Practice, a compendium of clinical/psychological issues for clinical psychologists of the latest treatments.

The Community Memory Clinic, now in the second year of a $187,000 grant from the Alzheimer's Association, also addresses the burden on the caregiver of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. Individuals and their families are often referred to SOPP's Community Memory Clinic at the Ellis Institute by their primary care physician. The clinic can connect families with the local resources available to them and act as an intermediary with the primary care physician.

"The impact of these diseases on the family cannot be underestimated," said Koerner, who developed a caregiver group for family members of Alzheimer's patients for her SOPP dissertation. She had seen firsthand the struggles her grandmother experienced during her grandfather's decline and then went on to volunteer for the Alzheimer's Association. "It's heartbreaking when your parent no longer feels like your parent, or doesn't recognize you," she said.

It has been noted in several research studies that it is critical to include and incorporate the support of families and caregivers in the treatment of people with dementia, as it is recognized that families are an integral part of providing assistance and aiding patients in their everyday functioning. The Community Memory Clinic helps to reduce the burden on families by providing recommendations, support, and additional community.

"It's important to take the health and quality of life of the caregiver into account for a complete picture. We've observed that African American women opt to keep loved ones at home more than other groups do, and may have a higher burden of care that needs to be addressed," said Allen. "Just as the individual who suffers from the disease is prone to becoming more inwardly focused, members of the family may find that they are cut off from their normal support groups due to the time involved with caregiving."

Sarah Koerner's grandfather didn't live long enough to attend her graduation from Wright State University's School of Professional Psychology. But she is hoping that her work will positively impact families of others who suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia.

"My grandfather realized that he was forgetting things, and it was frustrating for him," she said. "Hopefully I can help make life easier for others experiencing the same thing he did. I won't forget him."

Symptoms to watch for:

SOPP's Memory Clinic recommends that you watch for these signs or behaviors if you think you or a loved one may suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia:

  • Learning and retaining new information. For example: is more repetitive; has more trouble remembering recent conversations, events, appointments; more frequently misplaces objects.
  • Handling complex tasks. For example: has more trouble following a complex train of thought, performing tasks that require many steps, such as balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal.
  • Reasoning ability. For example: is unable to respond with a reasonable plan to problems at work or home, such as knowing what to do if the bathroom flooded; shows uncharacteristic disregard for rules of social conduct.
  • Spatial ability and orientation. For example: has trouble driving, organizing objects around the house, finding his or her way around familiar places.
  • Language. For example: has increasing difficulty with finding the words to express what he or she wants to say and with following conversations.
  • Behavior. For example: appears more passive and less responsive; is more irritable than usual; is more suspicious than usual; misinterprets visual or auditory stimuli. In addition to observing whether the patient arrives at the right time for appointments, the clinician can look for difficulty discussing current events in an area of interest and changes in behavior and dress. It might also be helpful to follow up on areas of concern by asking the patient or family members relevant questions.
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