Nightly News   |  September 03, 2013

Students on the frontline of Alzheimer’s battle

The Buddy Program at Northwestern University pairs Alzheimer’s patients with first-year medical students in an efforts to combat the growing disease. NBC’s Maria Shriver reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> tonight we are presenting a special report on a special challenge facing upwards of 15 million american families and that's alzheimer 's. an estimated 5.5 million americans are living with it right now. that could triple by the middle of this century. all this week, nbc news is reporting on the latest advances in slowing down, perhaps eventually curing alzheimer 's. maria shriver is in our studio with us tonight covering the age of alzheimer 's.

>> it is exactly that. the country needs thousands of doctors who understand what it is like to suffer from this disease. so we visited one innovative program where medical students learn from the people who are actually living with alzheimer 's.

>> i'm assuming you want cheerios.

>> i want cheerios.

>> okay.

>> five years ago life has changed for anne. she has trouble navigating stairs and reading small type. her husband reads the crossword puzzle clues out loud. ann and others are changing the face of alzheimer 's, she joined the buddy program at northwestern university in chicago. that pairs alzheimer 's patients with first year medical students . but here the patients teach the students.

>> i saw that it was really a wonderful way to help humanize patients with alzheimer 's disease.

>> the physicians and even as medical students , we don't have that much time in the room with patients. it's a very short encounter.

>> in the program, they can meet for hours at a time. allowing lee to learn from an early diagnosed person, and people like ann aren't called patients, they're called mentors.

>> ann is incredible, the courage that she has to take the time to want to teach me about this so i can help future patients.

>> oh, look.

>> the buddies are asked to avoid clinical settings for a year. ann and lee love to visit places like the lincoln park zoo . the strolls became an opportunity to learn how the disease plays out on a daily basis.

>> there are things that are going into my head, i want to talk about that, and then whoops, where did they go? where are they? when i want it them back --

>> is this something you think should be required for every medical student ?

>> i know it was really beneficial to me.

>> the whole idea is that we need other images of this disease.

>> i could get depressed but i'm not going to let myself.

>> how can we make the best of it?

>> even though their year together has just ended, lee and ann predicted they will stay in touch for a really long time. other medical schools including boston university , dartmouth have similar programs, and a number of others have expressed interest. so brian, this idea is spreading across the country. and just in time.

>> what a great idea, great woman, great story, maria, thank you.

>>> we want to let you know, maria will have all of this tomorrow morning on