Alzheimer's Care Center Memory Screening Day draws crowd

View ABC Action News interview with Dr. Fernandez about memory problems…

Dr. Francisco Fernandez, chair of Psychiatry at USF Health, chats with a visitor before her memory screening.

The Alzheimer’s Care Center at USF welcomed more than 200 community visitors Nov. 18 for its inaugural event: National Memory Screening Day.

It’s the first time that the free memory disorder screenings were supported by the Center’s powerful consortium of three clinical entities: the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr. Alzheimer’s Center, the Eric Pfeiffer Suncoast Alzheimer’s Center and the USF Memory Disorders Clinic.

“One purpose, one place, one team. USF Health is delighted to welcome this new consortium at the forefront of Alzheimer’s research and care to the community,” said Stephen Klasko, MD, MBA, CEO for USF Health and the Byrd Institute and dean of the College of Medicine.

Clinicians and practitioners from across USF Health and main campus worked together to provide the confidential memory screenings, hearing and safe-driving screenings, blood pressure checks, and “brain aerobics” to visitors who traveled to USF from as far away as Brooksville and Sun City. Services were offered in both English and Spanish.

According to USF Health experts, memory screening is important to identify people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Early diagnosis makes the medications available sooner, which can be important in slowing the rate of cognitive decline and helping reduce the burden caused by this disease.

“A multi-disciplinary approach is also critical,” said Dr. Terry Chisolm, who was supervising six doctoral students from the USF Communications Disorders Program. “Hearing and balance are huge issues in elderly people. Whatever else is going on with a patient, the risk of falls is high and costly. Working together with psychology, geriatric medicine, pharmacy, psychiatry, social work, and nursing, we see the ‘whole’ patient.”

Barbara Eller has her hearing tested by students from the USF Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Among the visitors was 82-year-old Barbara Eller of Tampa. The former educator taught children for more than 40 years, but this time, she’s the one learning about how to keep her memory in check. Her daughter, Amy Scherzer, persuaded Eller to attend.

“I don’t remember names, and that’s very annoying,” said Eller. “I have to think about the words to finish a sentence sometimes. I’m mostly annoyed by it, because I think I’m a very intelligent person.”

Eller worked her way through the battery of tests, which included a confidential memory screening, hearing and safe driving screenings and gait and balance tests. She scored a perfect 30 out of 30 on her memory test, where she had to repeat words, identify common months, dates and seasons, and draw objects presented to her by her screener.

As she moved from room to room in the Byrd Institute facility, meeting different members of the Alzheimer’s clinical care team, Eller felt more confident with her results. “It’s very impressive that you offer this service,” she said. “It’s reassuring to me to be here.”

Alzheimer’s affects 10 percent of people age 65 and older and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.2 million Americans currently live with the disease.

Above: Dr. Amanda Smith, interim director of the Eric Pfeiffer Suncoast Alzheimer’s Center, is interviewed by WUSF-FM about National Memory Screening Day. Below: Dr. Kristin Fargher, assistant director of the Suncoast Alzheimer’s Center, conducts a memory screening.

- Story by Susanna Martinez Tarokh and Melanie Meyer, USF Health Communications
– Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications