Treating Neurodegenerative Conditions at UT Health Austin
A Q&A with UT Health Austin’s Comprehensive Memory Center
Reviewed by: Alyssa Aguirre, MSW, LCSW-S, and Robin Hilsabeck, PhD, ABPP
Written by: Ashley Lawrence
UT Health Austin’s Comprehensive Memory Center within the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences provides evaluation and treatment for adult patients who are living with neurodegenerative conditions that impact memory, behavior, and other cognitive functions. Caregiver support services are also available throughout the patient’s care. The Comprehensive Memory Center’s mission is to put patients and their loved ones at the center of the patient’s care to help families live their best lives, have hope, and know that they are not alone.
Which conditions does the Comprehensive Memory Center treat?
The Comprehensive Memory Center provides diagnostic evaluation and evidence-based treatments for adults (usually older) with memory concerns, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer disease, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, primary progressive aphasia, and related disorders.
Which symptoms may indicate a need to schedule a visit with the Comprehensive Memory Center?
Changes in memory, thinking, or behavior that are concerning to the patient, loved ones, caregivers, or anyone else who knows the patient well. Symptoms may 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, or changes in mood and personality.
How important is it to receive an early diagnosis from the Comprehensive Memory Center?
It is very important to determine the cause of symptoms as early as possible to get the maximum benefits from available treatments, which could include identifying reversible causes of dementia. Receiving an early diagnosis provides an opportunity to create legal, medical, and financial plans while the patient is able to voice their values and preferences. Additional opportunities that may otherwise be missed include participating in clinical research or programs within the community that could benefit the patient and/or their caregiver.
What is the Comprehensive Memory Center’s approach to patient care?
At UT Health Austin, we focus the whole patient, making sure patients and their caregivers have the support they need throughout the patient’s care. Where possible, we have redesigned our care model to enable patients and their caregivers to see multiple specialists during the same visit depending on their specific health needs. This multidisciplinary, coordinated care model makes it easier for patients and their caregivers to get the care they need without having to make multiple trips to various locations. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to connect patients and their caregivers with research opportunities.
Who makes up the Comprehensive Memory Center care team?
The Comprehensive Memory Center care team includes neurologists, a geriatric psychiatrist, neuropsychologists, nurses, a speech-language pathologist, social workers, and more, who work together to help patients and their caregivers get back to the things in their lives that matter most.
What does treatment look like at the Comprehensive Memory Center?
Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, values, and beliefs. Working with the patient and their caregiver, the Comprehensive Memory Center care team creates an individualized care plan to help the patient and their caregiver reach the goals that matter most. Treatment plans commonly include medications, care management, family or individual counseling, cognitive-communication therapy, community resources, and follow-up visits.
What makes the care and treatment provided by the Comprehensive Memory Center unique?
The Comprehensive Memory Center is patient-centered and aims to achieve the highest healthcare value for the patient. Research shows that it typically takes the average patient anywhere from months to years to receive a diagnosis once they first make their symptoms known to a medical provider. We conducted a focus group to better understand the barriers patients and their caregivers face when navigating the healthcare system. Many identified frustrations involved the lack of care coordination and confusion surrounding the healthcare system. Our multidisciplinary care model not only helps reduce the number of visits patients and their caregivers would otherwise be required to schedule across multiple medical facilities, but also improves efficiency of evaluation and treatment by having multidisciplinary staff available in one location as well as on-site advanced imaging, labs, and neuropsychological testing.
Our approach to care is unique in its strong emphasis on involving both the patient and their caregiver in all aspects of the patient’s care. One of the distinctive characteristics of the Comprehensive Memory Center is our acknowledgement of the patient’s loved ones and other caregivers as valuable members of the patient’s care team. We understand that caregiving can have significant impacts on caregivers’ health, which is why we monitor both the patient and their caregiver for anxiety, depression, and other stressors. We also offer caregiver support services to address caregiver burden and provide assistance with community resources, long-term care planning, and more.
What can patients and their caregivers expect during the patient’s first visit with the Comprehensive Memory Center?
Most patients will have a minimum of two appointments, a diagnostic evaluation and a feedback session. We strongly encourage the patient’s caregiver to also attend both appointments. We ask that patients and caregivers arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled appointment time to complete questionnaires about physical and emotional health.
The first visit will last at least 2 hours. The patient and their caregiver will meet with members of the Comprehensive Memory Center care team who will listen to the patient’s concerns and ask questions about the patient’s health, medical history, cognitive symptoms, goals, mood, living situation, and social support to get a better understanding of the situation.
A social worker will meet with the patient’s caregiver and clinicians will conduct a neurologic exam to assess the patient’s strength, coordination, and reflexes as well as administer a memory screening test. Patients may also undergo more in-depth assessments of memory and thinking during this first visit. At this time, it is also common to order diagnostic testing that best fits the patient’s situation, such as brain imaging, blood tests, and/or neuropsychological testing.
During the patient’s second visit, known as the feedback visit, a physician will meet with the patient and their caregiver to review the patient’s test results and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. This visit typically lasts an hour, and we encourage both the patient and their caregiver to come prepared with questions and ready to take notes.
What type of support services does the Comprehensive Memory Center provide the patient?
The Comprehensive Memory Center supports patients by providing disease education, cognitive-communication therapy, and counseling services as well as assistance with practicing communication strategies, discussing legal documents, navigating long-term care options, and identifying resources in the community. If interested, patients may also be eligible to participate in research studies.
Who is a caregiver?
A caregiver is anyone who provides care and support to a person who may find it difficult to carry out activities of daily living on their own. Approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States provide care to loved ones as informal caregivers. Caregivers are often driven by their deep-rooted compassion and desire to help those they care about.
What type of support services does the Comprehensive Memory Center provide the caregiver?
Caring for a loved one with dementia can present unique challenges. As the ability to perform activities of daily living declines, unmanaged behavioral symptoms increase, and functioning independently becomes more difficult for loved ones with dementia, caregivers take on greater responsibility that may seem overwhelming at times.
The Comprehensive Memory Center offers caregivers counseling services to manage behaviors and emotional support to address concerns of daily living, increasing behaviors, and changes in mood and sleep as well as other challenges. Additionally, the team provides education and assistance with community resources, long-term care planning, and more.
What is the most important thing for patients to know about the Comprehensive Memory Center?
The Comprehensive Memory Center provides patient-centered, value-based care tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient and their caregivers. Our goal is to help determine what is causing the changes the patient may be experiencing and to support both the patient and their caregiver through the process of learning about care options and available resources.
How can patients make an appointment with the Comprehensive Memory Center?
A referral is required by the patient’s primary care doctor, neurologist, or psychiatrist. Once the Comprehensive Memory Center receives a referral from the patient’s referring provider, members of the Comprehensive Memory Center care team will identify any existing records of treatment in the UT Health Austin system and communicate with the patient’s referring provider to obtain any needed medical records and other information. If the patient has received medical treatment from a provider other than the patient’s referring provider, the Comprehensive Memory Center care team will contact the patient to receive a written Authorization to Receive Medical Records from the patient’s other provider(s). The Comprehensive Memory Center generally will not schedule the patient’s initial appointment until all relevant records have been received. Once all records have been received and reviewed, the Comprehensive Memory Center will contact the patient to schedule their initial appointment.
If assistance is needed with getting a referral, please call the Comprehensive Memory Center at 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) and we will be happy to help.
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