Making a difference for memory care patients

Taking the time to properly care for patients with dementia and memory issues requires evaluation, care coordination and education.

Kenneth Gregory Pugh, M.D., did not choose to become a memory specialist because it was easy. He was attracted by the intellectual challenge posed by patients with complex issues.

Taking the time to properly care for patients with dementia and memory issues requires evaluation, care coordination and education. Identifying and addressing issues early can make a big difference in the quality of life of the patients and their families, according to Dr. Pugh.

Dr. Pugh joined Norton Neuroscience Institute Memory Center this year as a memory care specialist for dementia patients. He is the third memory care specialist to join the team.

Previously, Dr. Pugh served as chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Properly caring for patients with cognitive issues takes institutional commitment and a robust team of caregivers. Dr. Pugh said he chose to come to Norton Neuroscience Institute Memory Center because he saw that commitment.

The center offers care from specialists in geriatric medicine, neurology, pharmacy, physical therapy, psychiatry, occupational therapy, social work and speech language pathology. According to Dr. Pugh, the center fills an important need amid a shortage in the specialty.

Physicians who see patients with dementia or cognitive issues often think there’s nothing that can be done because there are no medications that halt or reverse dementia, according to Dr. Pugh.

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“I’ve been evaluating patients with cognitive impairment and dementia for almost 25 years, and there’s unfortunately a lot of nihilism on the part of most physicians and providers,” Dr. Pugh said. “A lot of people are under the opinion nothing can be done, because there’s no viable treatment.”

Early diagnosis and management makes a difference

According to Dr. Pugh, teaching caregivers behavioral management techniques and preparing for each step of dementia’s progression are much more effective than medications for mood issues and behavioral concerns associated with dementia.

“I can tell you without a doubt identifying, people with progressive cognitive troubles early and managing them appropriately absolutely makes a difference in managing their illness for them and their family and caregivers,” Dr. Pugh said. “The medicine piece is only a small part of it.”

Before coming to Norton Neuroscience Institute, Dr. Pugh received a Master’s degree in dementia at Queen Square Institute of Neurology at University College, London, which attracts students from around the world. According to Dr. Pugh, Queen Square Institute of Neurology is at the forefront of dementia care.

Dr. Pugh is new to Louisville. He did his medical training at Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, and was an active duty internist when the military allowed him to take a two-year leave to become a clinical fellow in geriatric medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. He was the first person the Navy sent to be trained in geriatric medicine.

While at Harvard, Dr. Pugh also received a master’s degree in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health.

In addition to patient care, Dr. Pugh is interested in research, particularly in the neuroscience of cognitive impairment.

“A lot of things late in life — mobility, mood, bladder issues, cognitive issues — are at their core probably brain diseases, because the brain controls all of those,” said Dr. Pugh, who plans to continue to do research at Norton Neuroscience Institute.

In his spare time, Dr. Pugh likes to play Spanish guitar. He took it up when he was stationed at Naval Station Rota, in Spain. His wife, Leticia, dances flamenco. Dr. Pugh and his wife have become aficionados of the traditional Spanish music and dance and travel regularly to the annual international flamenco festival in Jerez de la Frontera in southern Spain.

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