Making future memories: Mayo Clinic helps patients with cognitive loss

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — When someone has symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, they experience memory loss, which in some cases, can turn into dementia. The HABIT program helps patients learn how to handle their new symptoms before they get any worse.

Life is filled with moments we hope to remember — moments we call memories.

“We have a daughter with disabilities we took care of for 30 years at home,” said Pam Gonnella, a patient at Mayo Clinic.

Gonnella’s memories are slipping away.

“I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January of this year. It’s really hard to deal with it,” she said.

Gonnella’s diagnosis forced her to rearrange her entire life.

“Sometimes I have trouble dressing myself,” she said. “Sometimes I have trouble reading a little, but the biggest one is I can’t write anymore.”

Gonnella and the 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s don’t have the luxury of a cure.

“There really aren’t a lot of options for people with mild cognitive impairment,” said Anni Shandera-Ochsner, a neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic Health System.

There are ways to manage the symptoms.

“Instead of just telling people what would be good do to, help them actually understand what they need to do. Then make those goals and start doing them,” Shandera-Ochsner said.

Mayo  offers a program for patients like Pam to become a creature of habit.

“The idea is to build the habit of looking at the calendar so if her memory gets worse over time, that habit will always be there,” said Joe Gonnella, Pam’s husband.

HABIT, the acronym for Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking, helps patients build patterns with their partners — patterns they can rely on before their symptoms worsen.

“A person with dementia who’s progressed to that stage isn’t able to do that,” Shandera-Ochsner said.

Pam isn’t the only one using the program’s building blocks. Patrick Bryon, who has a family history of Alzheimer’s, says the program keeps his brain and body active.

“Kind of a real roadmap on a daily basis and a monthly basis,” Byron said.

Doctors work with patients for 10 days to create a routine.

“The doctor referred to it as boot camp,” Joe said.

Because its hard work, Pam is giving it her all.

“A small amount of hope to make our lives go more smoothly,” she said.

She’s looking forward to making future memories.

If you or a loved one are forgetting things more than normal, experts say you should make an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later.

Recent News Headlines from News 8 Now 

Alex Jones ordered to pay $49.3M total over Sandy Hook lies

World’s Largest Six-Pack in La Crosse getting makeover

Former Wis. Gov. Walker endorses Republican Kleefisch for governor; both visit voters in La Crosse Co. 

Evers pardons 49 more people, bringing total to 603