Dr. Ruth Kandel, a geriatrician at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, specializes in memory loss, dementia and cognitive changes in aging. We recently spoke about the rewards and challenges of her work.
What made you decide to specialize in geriatrics?
I started out in primary care, but I always loved working with older people, even during my residency after medical school. I was also interested in cognitive disorders-- mental disorders that affect learning, memory, perception, and problem solving, so geriatrics was a good fit. I could have chosen a medical subspecialty, but I believe in a holistic approach to patient care. You spend more time with the patient, because you need to--they bring a lot with them, and they are incredibly interesting.
What drew you to Alzheimer’s disease and memory disorders?
I’m really fascinated by the brain: what it does, what we don’t understand, how it makes a person who he or she is. With dementia, how do you continue when you don’t have your memories as reference points? All of that is really about cognition.
What do you find the most rewarding about your work?
Connecting with my patients is the best part of what I do. When you’re a doctor, you’re allowed to make contact with someone and talk on a deeper level. You get involved in their lives and get to help them. When you first meet with a patient, you don’t get the whole story-- each time you see him or her, you see another layer. My patients bring a lot of stories, and I love that. It’s not a one-time experience, like a visit to the ER.
What are you most proud of in your medical career to date?
The thing I’m most proud of is the Memory Disorders Clinic, which I direct. It offers diagnosis of memory disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, and it’s been going on for about 20 years.
In terms of health issues and seniors, what would you most like to see changed?
Our current health system is much too fragmented, and it’s unbelievably frustrating for patients and their families. Say you have a loved one with dementia--that patient has to go to one place for social work services, somewhere else to see a neurologist, somewhere else to see a primary care physician. It would be ideal to have all those services better coordinated and located in one place.
Also, there’s an increasing focus on keeping people at home as they age, and it would be great if we had more social support to help families care for their loved ones at home. Supporting families has been shown to delay nursing home admission, and it would save our medical system a great deal of money.
Any words of advice for families coping with dementia?
Dementia is a family affair. It’s very easy to give a family advice or suggestions, but it can be very hard for them to “live it.” If you're in that situation, don’t try to do it all alone. Look for ways to get support from your family, your community, your religious organization, and places like the Alzheimer’s Association. There are resources out there. Give yourself space, time and permission to ask for help--you have to take care of yourself.