CHICAGO (AP) — At age 80, retired Chicago physician and educator Dan Winship is getting a bittersweet last chance to teach about medicine — only this time he's the subject. In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, Winship is giving a young medical student a close-up look at a devastating illness affecting millions of patients worldwide.
The two are part of a "buddy" program pairing doctors-to-be with dementia patients, pioneered at Northwestern University and adopted at a handful of other medical schools.
Besides offering students a unique perspective on a disease they're likely to encounter during their careers, the programs give patients a sense of purpose and a chance to stay socially engaged before their illness eventually robs their minds.
Winship and his "buddy," first-year medical student Jared Worthington, are building a friendship — dining together, visiting museums, chatting about Winship's medical career and Worthington's plans for his own.
The programs help erase the stigma of Alzheimer's and are laudable for introducing students to medical opportunities related to aging and dementia, said Beth Kallmyer, an Alzheimer's Association vice president who oversees outreach services.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia, a number that could triple by 2050, the group estimates.
Data presented at an Alzheimer's Association conference last year showed the programs are increasing medical students' knowledge of the disease beyond what they learn in the classroom.
About 75 percent of Northwestern students who participate become doctors in fields that deal with Alzheimer's patients, said program director Darby Morhardt.
For everyone, the diagnosis is a cruel blow. For Winship, it was nothing less.
"You can't remember anything," Winship said, sometimes faltering to find the right words. "You lose your ability ... to keep your wits about you."