Save yourself: how memory clinics work in Moscow

December 29, 2021

Prevention of morbidity is an important field of medicine, saving more than one million lives. However, you can not protect yourself against all diseases just by observing hygiene or social distancing. In order to reveal and stop an impairment of memory, attention and thinking in the older generation, a network of memory clinics was established in Moscow.

"In the memory clinics, elderly Muscovites with cognitive disorders and their relatives receive information and help for free. Specially tailored rehabilitation programs with the participation of experts in different fields make it possible to restore a person's intellectual abilities, improve memory and self-help skills. Over six years, doctors and psychologists of the memory clinics helped more than eight thousand patients" said Georgy Kostyuk, Chief Psychiatrist of Moscow Department of Health, Head Physician of the Alekseev Psychiatric Clinical Hospital No. 1.

This article is about how a memory clinic is organized, what you should do once you notice first symptoms with yourself or with those close to you, and whether it is possible to prevent the development of dementia.

From the idea to the first clinic

The first memory clinic was opened in January 2016 on the basis of the neuropsychiatric dispensary No. 15, where special care was provided to people with initial cognitive impairments. Previously, it was believed that memory and attention impairment was normal aging, and only people with diagnosed dementia were given special treatment. But with deep dementia in place, the modern medicine is only able to restrain its progressing for a while.

Notwithstanding that the world community accumulated considerable experience in helping people with developed dementia, the capital's doctors were creating an independent detailed group program for people with initial forms of the disease — mild cognitive decline.

"To make the program, we used the experience of domestic and foreign neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists. But no one worked systematically with a group of patients having mild cognitive declines. And we wanted to make a program specifically for the group format, and we succeeded," says Viktor Savilov, Head of the memory clinics network.

Viktor Savilov, Head of the Memory Clinics network. Photo by Yu. Ivanko.

Once the methodology was ready, the next important stage was informing Muscovites about the program and finding patients. In 2021, 3.5 thousand Muscovites applied for help, but the clinic did not succeed immediately — only 233 people were rehabilitated in its first year of work.

"Unfortunately, patients with initial symptoms of memory, attention, thinking impairment actually do not apply for help. Therefore we decided to go to the territorial social service centres to give short lectures and provide information about our program. The effort worked and the first flow of people came from those centres, followed by the second one, and then the information was spreading across the city by word of mouth," Viktor Savilov clarifies.

Inside and outside changes

A six weeks program was compiled for the patients aged over 60 years. Participants attend memory clinics five days a week and undergo cognitive and psychotherapeutic trainings. In fact, these are classes that help improve the work of memory, attention, speech, thinking.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

"The first stage of the course is adaptation. Once it is over, patients comprehend that the program is useful and effective, and relatives notice their progress too. We have feedback from these patients’ relatives. Besides, elderly people are changing not only inside, but also outside. They began to do hairstyles, manicures. But most importantly, we notice a high motivation for classes," Viktor Savilov says.

Sometimes drug therapy is used for rehabilitation — vascular drugs and vitamins, if necessary — anti-anxiety drugs. Doctors clarify that when a person notices memory or thinking impairment, anxiety can appear.

"We support patients, conduct psychotherapeutic trainings, explain what and why is happening to a person, prescribe medications if necessary and tell people how they can help themselves," the Head says.

Reducing risk

The third week of classes is underway in the clinic in Palikha Street. Patients came to know each other, got used to teachers and are performing tasks with interest.

"Memory impairment is my acquisition after Covid. My disease was asymptomatic, but there were problems with memory, thrombosis, the nervous system was shaken. I really like the classes, the atmosphere is good, I just want to come here again," 78-year-old Claudia Vinskevich says preparing to perform an exercise in thinking. The woman will have to divide the geometric figures into equal parts by squares.

Claudia Vinskevich. Photo by Yu. Ivanko.

Classes are held in groups of six or seven people to comply with social distancing requirement. Meanwhile, groups are formed after diagnosing at the end of the first week of the course, so that all participants are approximately at the same level. Psychologists note that Muscovites regularly attend classes, even in bad weather and icy road conditions.

"At my age, my memory is no longer the same as before, I will be 82 years old in a month. I am looking at the actor, I know him, but I can't remember his name. Friends advised me to come here, now I visit classes and feel that my memory is recovering a little. I am very pleased," says Nadezhda Koledyuk, a patient of the memory clinic.

According to experts, the causes of memory disorder are different. Age, stress, loneliness and concomitant diseases can affect. The average age of memory clinic patients is about 70 years old, and the oldest participant is 94. However, there is no exact age limit, doctors can accept even younger people.

Once the course is completed, patients receive methodological materials to continue working at home. You can participate in the program every six months, and about 20 percent of patients undergo it again. Doctors note that the dementia prevention, like any other disease, reduces the risk of its development.

Memory training and a healthy lifestyle

You can start prophylaxis and train your memory at any age. Experts recommend reading aloud with expression, retelling what you saw or read, solving Sudoku and memorizing shopping lists. By the way, crosswords will not help, since they do not train one’s brain but only use the knowledge available to the person.

"In the modern world many people completely switched to gadgets, they record the information and do not use memory. But any activity that we do not want to lose, needs to be constantly maintained, this is how our neural connections are arranged. The same is true for memory," emphasizes Anastasia Spiridonova, medical psychologist.

Anastasia Spiridonova, medical psychologist. Photo by Yu. Ivanko.

People often notice the memory and attention impairment after retirement. If there is no active intellectual activity, changes tend to progress. It is important to use memory, observe the daily routine, lead a healthy lifestyle and be physically active. An hour of walking a day is enough for this.

"Many people confuse the concepts of attention and memory. For example, they came home, threw the keys, and then forgot where they left them. This is attention, fixation of actions performed. Everything related to reproducing and memorizing information is memory. The concepts are closely related, but different," Anastasia Spiridonova clarifies. "Those coming to us are people who start forgetting turning off the stove, closing the entrance door, they can't remember the names of familiar actors."

How to get help

Experts recommend to contact a memory clinic if a person feels uncomfortable in everyday life. You can make an appointment with a doctor by calling +7 499 785-48-30 (from 09:00 a.m. to 04:00 p.m. on weekdays) or on the website by clicking on the Make an Appointment button (available after selecting a specific clinic).

After the consultation, the doctor will assess the patient's condition using tests and scales, and decide whether to undergo a rehabilitation course. The specialist will also warn about the limitations at concomitant diseases.

During the pandemic, classes in clinics are held in two shifts — from 09:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 12:00 to 02:00 p.m. Meanwhile, patients receive two meals a day.

During the pandemic, a video course for remote patient care was launched. Specialists recorded trainings that can be viewed on the website (for registered visitors).

There are eight memory clinics in Moscow. Their experience was adopted by medical organizations from other cities — Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Vologda, Khabarovsk and Tver.


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