The Christiana Care Health System community joined representatives of the Howard W. Swank, Alma K. Swank and Richard Kemper Swank Foundation to formally welcome James M. Ellison, M.D., MPH, The Swank Foundation Endowed Chair in Memory Care and Geriatrics, at a special event at Wilmington Hospital on Nov. 17.

Christiana Care President and CEO Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH, thanked the Swank Foundation for its leadership in memory care and geriatrics, particularly as the need for specialty care in these areas grows. The foundation’s $2.5 million gift established the endowed chair.

“We are grateful for the Swank Foundation’s generous support,” said Dr. Nevin. “As The Swank Foundation Endowed Chair in Memory Care and Geriatrics, Dr. James Ellison will lead our efforts to achieve optimal health for patients with Alzheimer’s and memory disorders, and to support their families and caregivers.”

James M. Ellison, M.D., MPH
James M. Ellison, M.D., MPH

In his role, Dr. Ellison leads Christiana Care’s Swank Memory Care Center, a unique resource in Delaware and the region for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders, founded in 2011 with a $1.25 million grant from the Swank Foundation. At the Swank Memory Care Center, a team that includes geriatricians, nurses, social workers and others works with patients and families to provide support, education and guidance from diagnosis through treatment.

The Swank Memory Care Center is the first and only comprehensive outpatient program in Delaware for patients with memory disorders and their families.

One in three older adults now dies with Alzheimer’s disease, and a new case is diagnosed in the U.S. about every minute. Some 26,000 Delawareans are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. With unprecedented growth in the older population nationally, the number of Delawareans 65 years of age and older with Alzheimer’s is expected to grow by one-third by 2025. It is one of the most expensive disorders to treat because of the double burden of medical care and the necessity for intensive caregiving.

To meet these needs, “the Swank Foundation has had an ongoing, focused commitment to support outstanding memory care in our state,” said Virginia U. Collier, M.D., MACP, the Hugh R. Sharp Jr. Chair of the Department of Medicine at Christiana Care. “Bringing Dr. Ellison, a nationally known geriatric psychiatrist with expertise in memory disorders, to Delaware enables us to make expert, respectful care more accessible to seniors and in particular to relieve the suffering of memory loss.”

The Swank Memory Care Center, built on a model of patient- and family-centered care, is a collaboration among the departments of Medicine, Family & Community Medicine and Psychiatry & Behavioral Health.

“One of the most difficult conversations to have with a patient and family is one about memory disorders including Alzheimer’s disease,” said Omar A. Khan, M.D., MHS, FAAFP, associate vice chair of Christiana Care’s Department of Family & Community Medicine. “These disorders are uniquely life-altering. However, it’s a different conversation for my colleagues and me because we have full confidence that we can help them right here at Christiana Care at the Swank Memory Care Center.”

To ensure seniors achieve optimal health and have an exceptional experience when they need care, Christiana Care partners with state and local organizations, said Patricia Curtin, M.D., FACP, CMD, chief of geriatric medicine and director of clinical strategy and community affairs for the Swank Memory Care Center.

“Memory care is a community effort in Delaware,” said Dr. Curtin. “We value our seniors, who play a vital role in our community as our neighbors, colleagues, keepers of our history, friends and indeed as our own parents and grandparents. We look forward to continuing these collaborations with our community partners.”

Cheryl Muller, in caring for her mother who has dementia, values the Swank Memory Care Center’s efforts to “let us help you manage the journey.” She said that her mother received an accurate diagnosis and retains her dignity under the care of David Simpson, M.D., medical director of the Swank Memory Care Center. “Instead of trying to write my mom’s story, you are helping us appreciate my mom’s story,” said Muller. “You make her know how important she is to our family. We are so very grateful, and you should be so, so proud of the part you play in caring for patients like my mom.”

Edward Goldenberg, M.D., FACC, president of the Swank Foundation and director of preventive cardiology at Christiana Care, then introduced Dr. Ellison as “a unique leader for a unique program” and “the doctor we would want to take care of our own parents.”

A renowned physician and educator, and champion of expert, respectful care of the elderly, Dr. Ellison joined Christiana Care in September from McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., most recently as chief psychiatrist and director of the Memory Disorders Clinic, director of hospital’s the Geriatric Psychiatry Program and program director for the Partners HealthCare Fellowship in Geriatric Psychiatry.

Dr. Ellison said he anticipates better days ahead for patients with memory disorders and their families. “I’m here today with a hopeful message — because we are making real progress in understanding and treating memory loss,” he said.

New diagnostic techniques, such as advanced neuroimaging, blood tests and more sophisticated neuropsychological assessments are leading to earlier and more accurate diagnoses, and new treatments are on the horizon, he said.

“It is our mission and our promise,” said Dr. Ellison, “to help our neighbors with memory loss and those who care for them, those nearby and those further away, enjoy a better and healthier life in their later years.

“We have much to offer our community of patients, caregivers, and clinicians. Even when a family is faced with a loved one’s progressive disease, we are often able to relieve suffering and to help lighten a family’s caregiving stress with supports and resources. It is our mission and our promise to help our neighbors with memory loss and those who care for them to enjoy better and healthier lives.”