Connecting rural residents to health care

Rural and Remote Memory Clinic and Rural Dementia Action Research (RaDAR) team members. Photo Credit: Debra Marshall.

One-stop help for rural dementia patients

October 20, 2015

A Saskatoon-based memory clinic is gaining national and international attention for its use of telehealth technology to deliver timely, one-stop dementia diagnoses to people in rural and remote areas.

Launched in 2004 with support from CIHR, the Rural and Remote Memory Clinic was a pilot project at the University of Saskatchewan. It is now the flagship project of the Rural Dementia Action Research (RaDAR) team and includes researchers from Canada and the United Kingdom.  

"We're showing that a streamlined one-stop diagnosis process supported by the innovative use of telecommunications and information technology can be critical to improving the delivery of health care services across distances," says University of Saskatchewan researcher Dr. Debra Morgan, the clinic's founder and director.

"Timely diagnosis has proven to be a key component in alleviating stress, providing direction for treatment, and allowing patients and families to plan for the future."

Many individuals with dementia live far from a major health centre with dementia experts and there is no simple test for dementia – a typical diagnosis often requires seeing a family doctor, followed by numerous tests and referrals to specialists.

"People were spending more than a year waiting for appointments and going back and forth," says Dr. Debra Morgan, of the rationale for starting the memory clinic. "That's very hard on families struggling with dementia symptoms, and it delays crucial early treatment."

The Memory Clinic offers an interdisciplinary team including a neurologist, neuropsychologist, physiotherapist, dietician and a nurse coordinator – all in one location.

The clinic focuses on the diagnosis and management of atypical and complex cases of suspected dementia, cases in which an interdisciplinary team assessment can have the biggest benefit.

"Patients get all their investigations done including a CT brain scan at the Memory Clinic," she says of the clinic, now funded by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health. "Our goal is to have a diagnosis for them and a plan for treatment and management of their problem by the end of the day."

More than 500 patients and their families from all health regions in Saskatchewan have been seen in the Memory Clinic.

The use of telehealth videoconference technology for follow-up appointments with patients and family caregivers saves the clinic's patients an average of 470 kilometres per-round-trip compared to traveling to Saskatoon for appointments.

Twice a month, the Memory Clinic also holds videoconference support groups for the spouses of people who have atypical dementias, such as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTD).

"Without telehealth videoconferencing, caregivers residing in rural and remote areas would not have access to this much needed support," says Dr. Megan O'Connell who, with her University of Saskatchewan students and staff from the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, leads the support groups. "Demand from spouses of persons with FTD is so high that we need to start a third support group."

More resources

Date modified: