New clinic offers diagnosis, treatment options for memory loss
By Bruce Coleman
Benjamin Gandy’s children first suspected their father might be having issues related to dementia when he began to have difficulty finding the right words to finish sentences.
The retired director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science seemed to process information a bit more slowly than usual, couldn’t always recall the names of people he knew well and started to have trouble understanding his mail.
Gandy, flanked by his daughters Nora Michael, left, and Ruthie Courtney, shows off a sculpture he made of his grandson.
His daughters, Ruthie Courtney, Nora Michael and Suzanne Gould, took him to see his family doctor, but an MRI
failed to indicate any vascular problems, so no further treatment was ordered. Months later, after having a bout of pneumonia, Gandy’s confusion worsened, so the family brought him to the Department of Geriatrics
at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, home to the Memory Impairment Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Research Center
. Dr. Gwen Windham
, associate professor of medicine (geriatrics) and head of the newly launched MIND Center Clinic
, initially diagnosed Gandy with Alzheimer’s disease
in August 2012.
“He doesn’t understand what Alzheimer’s is,” said Gould. “We have explained it to him as a problem with his brain working too slow, and trouble remembering things.
“His reaction was just to shrug.”
While the diagnosis didn’t come as a surprise to the family, it was still difficult for his daughters to hear. Gandy, 88, had been fiercely independent his entire adult life.
A World War II veteran and a graduate of the University Southern Mississippi, Gandy earned his master’s degree in zoology at Louisiana State University before he and his wife, Mary Frances Carpenter, moved to Jackson in 1951. He joined the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in the mid-‘50s and served as its director for 30 years, overseeing the construction of a new museum building, helping establish the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Foundation and expanding the research and educational programs of the museum to reflect his “Web of Life” vision.
The grandfather of seven and great-grandfather of three taught Sunday school classes and served as a deacon in his church. He maintained an avid interest in animals – particularly birds, having taught ornithology classes at Mississippi College and participating in bird counts with the Mississippi Audubon Society – clay sculpturing and gardening. His beloved wife passed away in 2007.
Still an affable conversationalist, Gandy is eager to share pivotal moments of his life – the time he joined the Navy at 16 to fight in the war “head-on;” the day Mary Frances convinced him to buy his current home in Madison; how the couple had worked to shape the pine straw-laden paths that meander through the landscape of his lush, immaculately manicured backyard; how the various species of birds – from cardinals and blue jays (his favorite) to wrens, doves and blackbirds – constantly gravitate around the various feeders sprinkled about his residence.
Then, he repeats the stories, telling them as if he were bringing them up for the first time. Minutes later, he tells them again. And again.
It’s a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease patients, and is reflective of their need for the continuing care the MIND Center Clinic now offers. Debuting last fall in Suite F of the University Physicians Pavilion, the clinic provides research-based diagnosis and state-of-the-art treatment for a range of conditions that cause memory loss and cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
While researchers in the MIND Center, led by Dr. Tom Mosely
, professor of medicine (geriatrics), set about the task of elucidating the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, attempting to untangle the Gordian Knot
of dementia, geriatricians and other health-care specialists in the outpatient MIND Center Clinic help patients and their caregivers safely navigate the various, complex stages of the disease.
“The goal all along for the MIND Center was to have both a research component and a clinical component,” Windham said. “As Dr. Mosley has been leading the development of the MIND Center research aspect in geriatrics, people have been calling and asking where they could get help for this.
“Since people in the community had this need and we have the desire to help these patients, we’ve moved forward with the MIND Center Clinic, with the support of Dr. Mosley, the MIND Center board and UMMC leadership.”
Staffed by providers in the Geriatrics Clinic that shares Suite F, and bolstered by an experienced nurse practitioner, a social worker and consultant faculty in neurology and psychiatry, the MIND Center Clinic already has seen approximately 30 patients in the last four months for issues related to memory loss.
Windham said new patients typically are seen twice initially for a workup and diagnosis, then on a semi-regular basis as their respective conditions warrant.
Gandy enjoys gardening.
“If people question whether their perceived symptoms are normal aging or part of a disease process, we can help them figure that out and offer treatment, if warranted,” Windham said. “If we establish a diagnosis of dementia and we know it’s going to progress, and if it’s the goal of the patient to slow the process, we want to help them do that, too.
“Our goal is to keep them safe and optimize their quality of life. We want to preserve their cognitive and physical function as long as we can.”
But she said the MIND Center Clinic’s services aren’t limited to patients undergoing memory loss. Assistance is available to caregivers as well, especially those who may be facing difficult behavioral challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
“You have to appreciate the whole disease process – what it does to the patient and to their caregiver – in order to help them through all of the stages,” Windham said. “Part of our challenge is to help patients and their caregivers learn how to better live together. We try to teach the caregiver how to talk to their loved ones more effectively, to approach them differently to minimize the frustration that sometimes can develop for caregivers trying to care for someone with this type of disease.
“The typical question we ask the caregiver when he or she comes in is, ‘How are you doing?’ We try to assist them in coping with their loved one’s disease as well.”
Gandy’s daughters have experienced a variety of emotions as they have dealt with their father’s condition, according to Gould.
“Overall, it has been a bittersweet time of spending far more time with Daddy than we have ever done in the past, but sadness at his diminished capacity,” she said. “One of the hardest things to hear him talk about is how he feels ‘lost.’”
Their father no longer can live alone or drive a vehicle by himself. His daughters have had to take over his business affairs, tend to his household needs and chauffer him to appointments. They have hired trained caregivers to live with him and help him with his activities of daily living.
But Gould said the regular visits Gandy makes to the MIND Center Clinic have helped enrich his quality of life.
“The staff members in the clinic are kind, patient and caring with him,” she said. “Dr. Windham is so very thorough and patient with him. She always makes an effort to address her questions and conversation directly to him. She makes him feel valued and safe.
“The fact that she takes her time with him and doesn’t rush through an appointment is a tremendous help.”
That patience has played a prominent role in his improvement, both mentally and physically.
“Understanding how heavily dementia affects a person’s life, but also other medical problems they may have, is a key,” Windham said. “We were able to help him make the changes in his regimen that optimized his functional status and addressed his cognitive status as well. We assessed his medical and non-medical needs so that he could get adequate support to keep him in his home and improve his quality of life.”
Because he feels better, Gould said her father is now spending more time working in his yard, getting exercise and obtaining mental stimulation.
“Our family is absolutely thrilled with the care he is receiving at the clinic,” she said. “We love the easy access to medical help when we have a question or a problem, the prompt schedule to see a doctor and the amount of time we are given, so he is not rushed.
“We have and will continue to recommend the clinic to anyone who is dealing with the challenges of an aging parent.”
It’s a refrain Windham is pleased to hear from many caregivers of the MIND Center Clinic’s patients.
“They now know they have a place they can go, if more questions or more problems pop up,” she said. “We understand that these patients are going to experience changes as their disease progresses. That’s something we can help with.”
For more information about the MIND Center Clinic or to schedule an appointment, call (601) 496-MIND (496-6463).