One of the biggest problems with Alzheimer’s disease is its poor press. It’s bad enough being old in today’s society but to have a degenerative disease on top of that is a real turn off. Our emphasis has always been to rise above the negative stereotypes of aging and to offer solutions to problems, tips and advice about how best to cope with Alzheimer’s, and to offer similar advice to caregivers.
It is therefore always refreshing to discover new approaches to Alzheimer’s. When I came across the Buddy Program devised and promoted by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, I was impressed. First developed in 1998, the Buddy Program matches first year medical students with persons diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Students then spend around five hours a month with their buddy. They spend time walking, talking, taking trips out, going for meals or just doing some window shopping.
The great thing about such a simple program is that it provides companionship and activity for the person with Alzheimer’s while offering invaluable insights for the student into the experiences, strengths and limitations of a person with dementia outside of the somewhat sterile clinical environments of clinics or hospitals.
Activities start with a Buddy Match Day where students and patients meet for the first time during a hosted party. Stories are shared, family members mingle, and the stage is set for the buddy program to start. Of course a necessary requirement for patients is that their disease progression is of a relatively limited nature. They must, for example, be able to understand the basic nature of the program and what is required from it. For this reason, patients in the mild-to-moderate stages of the illness are best suited.
According to the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the goals of the Buddy Program are:
- Heightening awareness of skills and strengths that remain in people with ADRD.
- Providing opportunities to see how someone with ADRD responds to his or her own changing abilities,
- Familiarizing students with issues of the daily care and support of persons with ADRD and their families and the most effective ways of communicating with persons with dementia.
- Introduce students to research and practice opportunities in related fields.
It seems to me that such activities provide a win-win situation to all concerned. The Buddy Program stands as an example of what can be done to put a human face on the issue of Alzheimer’s while providing valuable learning experiences to all those involved. If you are aware of similar programs, or if you run one yourself, we’d love to hear from you.