December 16: Memory Matters: Two UJA-Funded Initiatives Are Helping Those With Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Ruth was a longtime resident of the Penn South Program for Seniors, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community in Manhattan. When she began experiencing lapses in her memory, she fell victim to a financial scam. Thankfully, staff at one of Penn South’s in-house programs, Memory Matters — a UJA supported initiative overseen by Mount Sinai School of Medicine — alerted Ruth’s family to the scam, as well as to her declining memory function.

An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As they age, their needs will only increase. Often, people who experience memory loss do not approach their healthcare providers because of the shame and stigma surrounded by this issue, and many primary care physicians do not always test for memory loss because of high caseloads and lack of adequate time with each patient. Other gaps, such as lack of access to doctors and comprehensive programs in certain neighborhoods, further negatively affect the quality of life for these individuals.

In 2017, UJA’s Caring Department created the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Initiative to close these gaps. UJA allocated two grants — one to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and the other to Northwell Health — to bring doctors and other health professionals directly to the patients in community-based organizations where patients already congregate or live. In this way, patients have direct access to doctors to be screened for memory loss. Doctors also train social workers and other staff to be able to see the early signs of memory loss so they can keep a closer eye on the residents they care for.

Mt. Sinai created Memory Matters, which is run in two Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). Penn South, where Ruth was a resident, is one of them.

“The UJA-funded collaboration between Mt. Sinai and Penn South Program for Seniors assisted me in formulating ongoing treatment plans to keep Ruth safe in the community,” said Christine Diaz, Ruth’s social worker at Penn South. “I was able to consult with Dr. Joyce Fogel, Ruth’s primary care doctor, regarding the stages of Ruth’s dementia. Dr. Fogel provided me with invaluable guidance around issues such as appropriate levels of home care and ways to manage Ruth’s behavioral challenges.”

While Memory Matters operates out of retirement communities, Northwell doctors see patients at Commonpoint Queens for its own program called OASIS. Many older adults in the Queens community do not otherwise have access to a geriatrician who will screen for memory loss. By having doctors come to Commonpoint, these elderly men and women have accessible and low-barrier opportunities for memory assessments.

“Through the vulnerability and patience of the community members who come to see me through OASIS, I have been able to understand how difficult it is to come to terms with memory impairment,” noted Dr. Bhumika Chudasama from the Hospice/Palliative Medicine, Geriatric Medicine Department at Northwell. “I hope to be able to bridge them to an environment of complete support and care at Commonpoint.”

These programs are making genuine inroads in the greater community and impacting not only the lives of the clients, but that of their families too.

After Ruth passed away at 92, her niece Ellen reflected, “As Aunt Ruth’s needs continued to grow over the last few years, Memory Matters helped guide us each step of the way. Staying in her beloved Penn South community until she passed away would simply not have been possible without it.”