Many diseases cause dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease, caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around the brain cells. Affecting behavior and cognition, the onset of dementia is gradual. It manifests in many ways, affecting memory, mood, and sleep, and sometimes leading to outbursts of aggression. Patients are also prone to wandering, which is stressful and of great concern for family members and caregivers.
With an aging population, dementia is becoming a global epidemic. In Israel, with a population of approximately nine million, it is estimated that 150,000–200,000 people have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Professor Tzvi Dwolatzky, director of Rambam’s Geriatric Unit and associate clinical Professor at the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is one of the founders of a recently opened virtual clinic at Rambam for treating behavioral symptoms of dementia.
The latest advances in digital and remote medicine enable the clinic to offer a virtual, timely, and comprehensive response to dementia patients and their families is a breakthrough. Using video conferencing software, the clinic’s skilled, multidisciplinary team provides treatment and support, including; medication management, social assessments, practical solutions for daily living, and advice regarding nursing care.
Improving quality of life is the goal of the clinic. Professor Dwolatzky explains, “Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic condition, and patients live with it for years. Almost 90 percent of dementia patients develop behavioral disorders. This gradual decline makes it difficult for the patients who are often unaware of the problem, or is even more challenging for those around them.”
Professor Dwolatzky recounts the case of an elderly couple he treated: “The husband had Alzheimer’s, and his 80-year-old wife was caring for him. His dementia caused him to become aggressive, and he occasionally attacked his wife physically. For protection, she kept a walking stick under her pillow. He would wander off alone, and to alert her, she hung chimes at the front door. She hardly slept and was always anxious. It was a daily struggle. Dementia is very dynamic and requires a quick response. Families need support, but waiting times for initial and follow-up appointments in local community clinics, are very long.”
The coronavirus highlighted the need for a virtual, empathetic geriatric service that hastens treatment. Immediate professional assistance in managing a challenging situation is now available.
Professor Dwolatzky concludes, “We are confident that this virtual clinic will radically change current practices and be of enormous help to dementia patients across Israel.”