The UT Health Austin Cognitive Disorders Center in the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences provides evaluation and treatment to patients and families who are living with conditions that impact memory, behavior and other cognitive functions. This month, we asked the Cognitive Disorders team to answer a few questions about their clinic and the care their patients and the patient’s care partners can expect at UT Health Austin.
Which conditions does the Cognitive Disorders Center treat?
We provide diagnostic evaluation and evidence-based treatments for adults (usually older) with memory concerns, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, primary progressive aphasia, and related disorders.
What specialists and clinicians are part of the team?
We use a team-based approach, with you and your loved ones as the most important team members. Additional team members include specialists from neurology, geriatric psychiatry, neuropsychology, nursing, clinical social work and speech-language pathology.
What should patients expect when they make a visit to the Cognitive Disorders Center?
Our value-based model involves a team approach with shared clinical visits to provide support to the patient and the patient’s care partners. Care partners can include family members and / or other people providing care to the patient. Most patients will have at least two appointments, a diagnostic evaluation and a feedback session. We strongly encourage the patient’s care partners to also attend the two appointments. Both the patient and the patient’s care partners should arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled appointment time to complete questionnaires about physical and emotional health.
The first visit is around 90 minutes, during this time you will see multiple team members. We will first review your cognitive symptoms and medical history. Then, we will conduct a neurologic exam to assess thinking, strength, coordination and reflexes. The social work counselor will ask questions to gain a better understanding of your situation regarding your goals, mood, living situation, and social support.
At your second visit, your care team will meet with you and your care partners to review your test results and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. This visit typically lasts 60 minutes, and we encourage you to come prepared with questions and ready to take notes. Your treatment plan will commonly include medications, care management, family or individual counseling, cognitive-communication therapy, community resources and follow-up visits.
What symptoms may indicate a need for a potential patient to schedule a visit?
Changes in memory, thinking, or behavior that are concerning to the patient, family, care partners, and others who know the patient well. Examples include memory loss or forgetfulness challenges in planning or solving problems, confusion with time or place, trouble understanding spatial relationships, difficulty completing familiar tasks, problems with words in speaking or writing, misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, poor judgment, withdrawal from work or social activities, and changes in mood and personality.
How important is it to be seen early?
It is very important to determine the cause of symptoms as early as possible to get the maximum benefits from available treatments, including identifying possible reversible causes of dementia. Receiving an early diagnosis also provides an opportunity to make legal, medical and financial plans while the patient is able to voice their values and preferences. There are additional opportunities to consider, such as participating in clinical research or programs in the community that could benefit the patient or care partners.
What type of support services does the Cognitive Disorders Center provide the patient and/or care partner?
We offer treatment recommendations that are not limited to medications, and may include things like cognitive-communication therapy, counseling or care management. If interested, you and/or your care partners may be eligible to participate in research studies. In addition, our team is able to support you and your care partners by providing disease education, practicing communication strategies, discussing legal documents, helping you understand long-term care options, and finding resources in the community such as support groups.
What makes the care and treatment your team provides different?
Research shows that it takes the average person months to years to receive a diagnosis after they first make their symptoms known to a medical provider. In our focus groups, patients expressed frustration with the lack of care coordination and confusing healthcare system. We plan to reduce the bouncing around to multiple medical facilities and improve efficiency of evaluation and treatment by having a multi-disciplinary staff available in one place as well as having in-house imaging, labs, and neuropsychological testing available. This helps reduce the number of appointments that patients need to attend and improve coordination of care.
What makes it better?
The Cognitive Disorders Center is a patient-centered practice aiming to achieve the highest healthcare value. Our approach to care is unique with a strong emphasis on involving both patients and care partners in all aspects of care. One of the distinctive characteristics of the center is that we acknowledge the family members and other care partners as valuable members of the care team. Therefore, we monitor both the patients’ and care partners’ depression, anxiety, burden and stress because research has shown that care partner health has a strong impact on quality of life of persons with cognitive disorders.
What is the most important thing for patients to know about the Cognitive Disorders Center?
We provide patient-centered, value-based care tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient and care partner. Our goal is to help determine what is causing the changes you are experiencing and support you through the process of learning about care options and resources.
How can patients get in touch?
A referral is required by your primary care doctor, neurologist or psychiatrist. If you need assistance with getting a referral, please call us at 1-833-UT-CARES and we will be happy to help you.