Center celebrates 20 years of serving those with Alzheimer's

PLATTSBURGH Those who have dealt with the pain of watching a friend or loved one slip away to Alzheimers disease, know far too well the difficulties of the degenerative neurological condition. It was for that reason a center was created for the North Country 20 years ago. The Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center was established in 1988 by Dr. Taher Zandi, a clinical neuropsychologist who today serves as the centers director. The idea behind creating a center was something Zandi said he was determined to pursue. I used to see patients who suffered from dementia disorders and their needs and their familys needs were beyond the scope of what I was able to offer them, said Zandi. The major motivating factor to move forward with creating the center was the lack of expertise and familiarity with the disease from other professionals in the area. In most cases, people would have to travel to Burlington or more than 150 miles downstate to find the help they needed. We had nothing in this area for these folks and I felt a great deal of obligations toward my patients and their family members, said Zandi. Our patients either had to go across the lake or to Albany for diagnostic services. There were many misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed folks. So, creating a center as such was very logical. However, establishing the center didnt come without its challenges. While getting people to come from miles away for the treatment they needed was difficult enough, the necessary funding for them to do so was an even larger obstacle. At the time, many insurance companies were not paying for diagnostic services, said Zandi, and today, many of them still do not pay for management services. Attracting trained professionals to the area to consider treatment and management of the dementia disorders and even educating local agencies who worked with such people also presented major hurdles. I had to even convince the Office for the Aging at the time that they need to address the needs of Alzheimers patients and their caregivers, Zandi said. The center was eventually established, with its operation launched from a small office carved out of a classroom in Sibley Hall at the campus of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. The program included Zandi, administrator Linda Patnode and registered nurse Kim Lawrence, as the centers traveling nurse. The center saw a fairly rapid patient growth rate when it began, he said. The services it offered and continues to offer today which include diagnostic and treatment services, neuropsychological assessment, geriatric counseling, support groups, respite care, education and resources became highly sought after. Through the centers work, it became the resource for dementia-related services, obtaining statewide and national attention and nearly $10 million to assist the region with dementia-related services. Today, the centers staff consists of Zandi, community education and support specialist Kenna LaPorte, mental health counselor Valarie Drown, office manager Laura Dominianni and clerical specialist Mary Ann McGovern. Services have been provided to more than 5,800 individuals, with an average of 20 clients at the clinic and 15 in area nursing homes served per month. I am so fortunate to have been in the right place and in the right time 20 years ago, Zandi said. The center will host an open house in recognition of its 20th anniversary Friday, Oct. 3. The event, which will be held from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in Room 100 of Sibley Hall on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, will be held in conjunction with the kick-off for the 2008 Alzheimer's Walk. For more information about the center, call 564-3377 or visit the center, located in Room 227 of Sibley Hall, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The office is closed daily from 12-1 p.m. Information may also be found on-line at http://web.plattsburgh.edu.

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