PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease, and new cases are expected to double by the year 2050. Medical students are learning in a special way about the people who have the disease.
Scott Koppel and Herb Miller never run out of things to talk about. It could be a character in a movie.
“I think she was like 66. Really old,” Miller, who is 88, said jokingly.
They could be talking about his military service during and after World War II, or they they could have a discussion of Alzheimer’s.
“What does good health mean if you don’t know who you are — if you can’t remember your loved ones?” Koppel asked.
Miller is far from being in that situation, but last year, he was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.
“The business of living is very easy to come by with the help of people like the Alzheimer’s Association,” said Miller.
The Alzheimer’s Association paired him with Koppel. The PAIRS Program gives first year K.U. Med Students the chance to interact informally with early stage Alzheimer’s patients to gain knowledge of the disease and skills in communicating with patients. PAIRS is also about dispelling myths.
“That we’re not some oddball person out there and that Alzheimer’s is very much a part of living,” said Miller.
Koppel said, “They’re these wonderful, intricate people just like you and me. They haven’t lost that part of themself that made them special.”
Koppel already plans to become an Alzheimer’s researcher.
“I get emotional when I think about people like him helping us and devoting their time to the study,” said Miller.
He also had reason to get emotional at a celebration marking the end of this year’s PAIRS Program.
“I love him,” Miller said of Koppel as other participants clapped.
The feeling is mutual.
“If he needs help shoveling snow off his driveway when winter comes around again, I’ll be there for him,” said Koppel.
PAIRS is about people — those who will become doctors and those who happen to have Alzheimer’s.