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The Buddy Program

The Buddy Program pairs first-year medical students with people living with early-stage dementia for a mutually enriching experience over the course of an academic year.

Program Aims

  • To provide a mentorship opportunity and social engagement for persons with Alzheimer’s dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment
  • To offer an opportunity for both the person with dementia and family to share their experiences with the illness
  • To give medical students the opportunity to get to know someone with dementia outside of the clinical setting

Buddy Program History

The idea for a program to introduce medical students to individuals with dementia and to facilitate a more meaningful interaction originated in the Neurobehavior and Memory Clinic of the Northwestern University Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center in 1997. A retired Northwestern physician, newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and his wife expressed frustration that he was no longer using his experience and knowledge in any meaningful way. Although forced to abandon his life’s work as a result of his cognitive decline, this physician was still able to impart valuable medical information and provide supportive direction and mentor, for a time, an interested medical student. The Buddy Program was then developed and piloted to provide first-year medical students the experience of getting to know a person living with dementia the opportunity to learn from them.

In addition to conducting research investigating the causes and clinical characteristics of neurodegenerative diseases, the Mesulam Center has always placed a strong emphasis on the quality of life for diagnosed individuals and their families. Over the years, the center has developed and enhanced early-stage programming to help families learn about and cope with the diagnosis, combat the common stigmas of dementia and investigate the potential benefits of non-pharmacological interventions. The Buddy Program was developed on the premise that, despite the diagnosis, people can still maintain a meaningful quality of life. It offers a mentoring and learning experience on their own terms and demonstrates that they are not defined by their illness. In spite of cognitive and physical changes, people with dementia are unique individuals with much to contribute.

Buddy Program Goals

  • Educate students about dementia
  • Heighten awareness of the skills and strengths that remain in people with this disease;
    provide the opportunity to see firsthand how someone with AD responds to his/her own changing abilities
  • Familiarize students with care and support-related issues encountered by people with dementia and their families
  • Become familiar with the most effective ways of communicating with persons with dementia
  • Introduce students to research and other career opportunities in behavioral neurology, neuropsychiatry, geriatrics and related fields
  • Provide individuals with dementia an opportunity to mentor a medical student and influence their future clinical practice
  • Provide individuals with dementia an opportunity for preserved self-awareness, self-esteem and mood enhancement

In the Media

For more information, please contact Darby Morhardt.



The Glen and Wendy Miller Family
The program above is made possible by the generosity of the Miller family. Through their $1.25 million commitment, Glen and Wendy Miller and their daughter Lauren Izaks support the education and support programs for individuals and families living with neurocognitive disease, particularly the Buddy Program, which they have supported since 2008. In addition, their gift has helped establish the Miller Social Work Fellowship Program.

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