Since moving to Nola in late March, the one worry I’ve continued to have has surrounded Ralph’s Alzheimer’s care. I feared that six years at Emory’s Brain Health Center, surrounded by physicians on the cutting edge of research, had spoiled us although. There were drawbacks to Emory: Neither Rick nor I will miss the three-hour round-trip trek from our farm every visit (a drive that kept Ralph and me from participating in support groups and activities Emory offered); and as Emory’s client load grew, I sometimes felt a little lost in the shuffle. But I knew Ralph was getting topnotch treatment, and it concerned me that while our providers in Atlanta encouraged our move to Nola, they knew of no similar providers in Nola to recommend.
Finally a friend with medical connections recommended one neurologist at Ochsner Hospital who specialized in dementia, but he ended up too busy to see us. Instead, the neurology department assigned us another doctor we knew nothing about. But we needed to see someone since almost 18 months had passed since Ralph’s last “annual” cognitive check up. I scheduled Ralph into a virtual appointment at the end of August—a mistake on my part since Virtual does not work for Ralph who has enough trouble with doctors in person and refuses to (can’t) use any newfangled phone or internet technology. The neurologist asked the right questions and was perfectly pleasant but did not make a real connection with Ralph (i.e. Ralph decided he didn’t like him). I had already silently accepted that Ralph’s Alzheimer’s care would be less extensive going forward; I told myself that, aside from the annual testing, I no longer needed lots of professional input since I was the one in the trenches monitoring Ralph’s daily functioning. So when the doctor said he would schedule Ralph’s cognitive testing, I assumed with equanimity that that’s all it was—testing.
I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to discover I was wrong. It turns out Ralph’s testing was actually the first step in becoming part of the “Care Ecosystem” for brain health at Ochsner. We met with a neuropsychologist who bonded with Rick over dogs, a nurse practitioner who came up with a change in Ralph’s prescriptions that sounds promising, and a Care Team Navigator who says she will be checking in by phone with me on a monthly basis or as needed. Wow! on that last one. I thought outreach support only happened in other countries with better health systems in place.
According to the handout I received, Ochsner’s goal is “to personalize the Care Ecosystem for each patient and caregiver.” I’m not sure why the program is not better known, but my guess, from the high level of enthusiasm on the staff, is that it may be relatively new.
I am going to do more research on exactly how the program works differently from what Emory offers and will be talking to our navigator more tomorrow. For now I am enjoying my relief that Ralph will be getting good care, and only a 15 minute drive away. And my relief tells me there is something else I was wrong about–for all my declaring that I didn’t need professional support, I did and do. I left the clinic feeling so much less weight on on my shoulders and in my heart.
As for the cognitive testing itself—I’ll need another post to digest the results.
PS A funny typo I caught just in time: The title almost read “Ralph’s New Support System, and Mind”