Compassion in Action: CI MED Students Build Connections with Dementia Patients

November 6, 2023
Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

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Carle Illinois College of Medicine students are leading a new initiative to help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. They’ve partnered with the Amber Glen Special Care Center in Urbana, Illinois, to deliver programming that may help stave off cognitive decline in patients.

Two CI MED students – Shrey Patel and Mihir Patil – are leading the new outreach effort after personally witnessing the life-altering isolation that affects patients with dementia. Before coming to CI MED, Mihir Patil worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a hospice/nursing home facility.

 “I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact that compassionate care can have on these patients’ quality of life,” Patil said. “Partnering with Amber Glen Alzheimer’s Special Care Center provides an opportunity to give back in a significant way to some of those who helped shape today’s Urbana-Champaign community.” 

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CI MED students manage activities like Bingo and finish-the-phrase that can help mitigate cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.

Medical student volunteers organize and manage a variety of activities for Amber Glen residents, including coffee and chat time, playing games like bingo or finish-the-phrase, morning exercise, coloring/drawing, watching movies, dancing/listening to music, or reading to them.

While these activities don’t change the patients’ diagnoses, they provide a way of connecting for patients whose ability to communicate is severely compromised. “Our experiences with these patients previously have underscored the importance of a holistic approach to patient care that goes beyond just medical treatment – it’s paramount to understand the emotional, psychological, and social struggles that come with these conditions as alleviating the emotional and psychological strain is just as important as addressing any physical manifestations of these life-altering diseases,” said Shrey Patel. 

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CI MED students Shrey Patel (L) and Mihir Patil (R) work with Amber Glen Volunteer Coordinator Sadie Gauna (center) to organize activities that benefit patients with dementia.

His interest in Alzheimer’s care became personal when his grandmother was diagnosed. “I have seen the progression of the disease and the great impact it had in my family,” said Patel, whose undergraduate research included working in a lab that explored early diagnostic methods for AD. “As I got more interested in the field, I wanted to directly make a difference in the lives of patients with AD, so I began volunteering at Amber Glen before coming to medical school.” He’s now leading a volunteer movement among Carle Illinois College of Medicine physician innovators that has grown to include a significant portion of the CI MED student body.

In 2020, the Illinois Department of Public Health said 230,000 Illinoisans were living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and the number was expected to grow by 13% by 2025. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates 6.7 million Americans are living with some form of dementia. There is no known cure, claiming the lives of one in three seniors each year. By 2050, Alzheimer’s could affect a projected 12.7 million Americans who are age 65 or older, barring a medical breakthrough. The toll on families can be devastating, with an estimated 11 million Americans serving as unpaid caregivers for a patient with Alzheimer’s.

As future physician innovators, CI MED students will be among the clinicians tasked with developing new treatments for dementia patients. Patil says he hopes he and other CI MED students can play a role in advancing care for patients with neurodegenerative diseases in the future. “By continuously witnessing the day-to-day realities of these patients, a holistic, comprehensive action plan can be developed to innovate in areas like early detection and patient education. We strive to use the engineering knowledge we gained from the Carle Illinois College of Medicine curriculum to further drive innovation and growth in the AD space.”

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This story was published November 6, 2023.