Changes in Attitudes, Practices Regarding Aging

“The perception of aging is changing,” says Franklin Watkins, MD, assistant professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine. “As a society, we’re starting to change the prism through which we view aging—we realize it’s not an inevitable decline.

“I got beaten by a 70-year-old in a 5K—that’s what I’m talking about,” he says, proudly.

Watkins says Wake Forest School of Medicine is on the leading edge in teaching geriatrics. With components like required rotations and patient interaction in the first year of medical school, learning about the issues of geriatrics and gerontology is threaded intentionally into the curriculum. He says he values the opportunity to teach another generation.

“They’ll all be managing geriatrics, no matter what the specialty,” he says. “If you can learn good geriatrics, you can practice medicine.

“We’re educating families, listening to the patients, their goals and plans. The new model with emphasis on patient-centered, value-based medicine—we have been practicing this in geriatrics all the time.”

Wake Forest Baptist geriatricians still do house calls, according to Watkins. Once a week, he goes to the Elizabeth and Tab Williams Adult Day Center to provide an on-site clinic for patients with memory loss.

“It’s stressful for a patient with dementia to have to go out to an unfamiliar environment,” he says. “And visiting there also helps provide information that is unavailable in an office visit. For example, I see the patients in an environment where they are comfortable, and I can observe how they interact with other people. The staff can also let me know about any changes that might have occurred, since patients with dementia often cannot vocalize their symptoms.

“I give patients, families and center staff my cell phone number. This is the old-school way, where we follow the patient wherever he or she needs us to be, whether at the clinic, at their home or at an adult day center. This is where I see dementia care going.”

Some of the approaches that differentiate Wake Forest Baptist’s approach to aging include:

  • The Memory Counseling Program (MCP), established in 2011, provides counseling services for individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, as well as to their family members. It’s directed by Ed Shaw, MD, MA, the Rebecca E. Shaw Professor in Geriatrics, an endowed professorship established by donors who wish to remain anonymous.
  • Support groups, including the Early Journey Support Group, Caregiver Support Group and the Brain Fitness Group, provide cognitive and emotional stimulation through music, interactive games and light physical activities for those affected by dementia.
  • The Geriatrics Principles for Specialists (GPS) program features a novel quality improvement competition based on the concept of a health care hackathon—a type of innovation marathon in which people come together to find creative ways to address a health care problem. Challenge teams include people from various medical specialties. Faculty and administrative leaders and a patient representative serve as judges and provide analysis and feedback. The winning idea is put into use. The challenge is supported in part by the Kulynych Family Foundation and the Slick Family Foundation.