In this Q&A with Teresa Gomez-Isla, MD, Director of the Memory Disorders Unit (MDU) at Mass General, Dr. Gomez-Isla shares services and treatments available to patients with memory disorders and their families, as well as some tips for protecting and enhancing your memory today. 

What is your vision for the Memory Clinic at MGH?

We are committed to providing our patients and their families with excellent clinical care, and to finding better cures for our patients. We are confident that we can and we will solve the dementia epidemic. Until we achieve that ultimate goal, we will continue to offer the highest quality service for diagnosis, monitoring and treatment, and to meet the social and emotional needs of our patients and their caregivers. Our main mission is to improve understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias with the main goals of finding a cure and providing better comprehensive care of patients and families living with these devastating disorders.

What does a care plan involve?

Local, nationwide and international patients with memory loss and dementia increasingly request our help with: 1) obtaining diagnosis and medical management; 2) information about the disease, services, and resources; 3) opportunities for volunteers to participate in research studies; 4) support groups and other special programs for patients and their families. Our care plans work to fulfill all four of these needs on behalf of patients and their families.

Do you offer services for non-English speaking patients?

Absolutely. In the past 5 years we have focused on several major goals:

  1. Increasing minority access to our clinics and diversity of our research participants
  2. Building and maintaining a Registry database in order to catalyze our efforts toward recruitment into research studies
  3. Participating in local and national outreach efforts to increase public awareness about early AD and the critical need for research participation
  4. Building relationships within community, state and federal agencies toward meeting these goals.
As mentioned above, our Memory Division have launched a “Spanish Clinic” that is allowing us to widen clinical care and research participation among the Hispanic community in Massachusetts.

Are patients eligible/referred to clinical trials?

Patients and families who seek our care are offered to join us in cutting-edge research opportunities, including multiple observational and interventional studies with special emphasis on early disease detection and intervention. We have joined forces with the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment (CART) at BWH with Dr. Sperling, the primary investigator, to conduct drug trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Alzheimer’s Association, and pharmaceutical companies at both sites, BWH and MGH with Dr. Arnold, and the primary investigator). A recruitment team formed by MGH and BWH research assistants and nurses is now present every week in our Memory Division outpatient clinic and introduces new research opportunities to our patients and their families at each visit.

What are some simple activities we can all engage it to be proactive about protecting/enhancing our memory?

Several activities can help to promote healthy memory and thinking. Being physically active is important for cognitive well-being, as well as overall health. The type and level of physical activity that is safe depends on other health conditions as well, so it would be good to talk with your doctor for specific recommendations. Eating a healthy diet can also help protect against memory decline. In general, a healthy diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts. A great example of an overall healthy diet is the Mediterranean diet. Activities that are cognitively engaging, such as working crosswords and reading, are also recommended. Finally, staying socially engaged with family and friends may help protect against cognitive decline. Taking these steps may help with preventing or slowing memory loss and cognitive decline, as well as generally promoting your overall health.

What kind of hope can you offer patients with memory issues?

Memory loss can be scary and uncertain. Our team will help guide you and your family through diagnosis, discussions about treatment options, and planning for the future. We have many resources including social workers, resource specialists, and support groups. We also have a robust research program with ongoing clinical trials that provide hope for future treatments for memory loss and dementia.

I remember feeling relieved to be greeted by such a young, vibrant group. Knowing that you or your loved one is in the care of a memory specialist when you are experiencing memory problems provides a sense of stability during what can be a very unstable time. Dr. Gomez-Isla knew that while my husband Steve was the person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as his wife/caregiver, we both carried the burden of this diagnosis. The MDU provided support for me as his caregiver, and as a result, I felt cared for also. When my husband and I left his first appointment we hugged, knowing we'd landed in the right place.

Judy Johanson
MADRC Longitudinal Cohort Coordinator, Gerontology Research Unit, Mass General
Judy & Steve Johanson
Judy and Steve Johanson