Ever since Monica Crane skipped her high school prom in order to present at the international science fair, she has proved time and again that science was her first love. But the doctor’s dedication to her patients at Mercy Health Partners’ Geriatric Assesment Program proves that there is more to that love than just lab experiments.
“I really enjoy working with people, and I love older adults,” said Crane. “So I was naturally drawn to medicine, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Crane first became interested in geriatric medicine during medical school, as a mentor of hers was doing research in that area. Her residency at the University of Pennsylvania was focused on geriatric psychiatry and medicine.
But even before that, Crane said her respect for the elderly began with her relationship with her grandparents.
“They really were mentors in trying to teach me as a child how important healthy aging is,” said Crane. “They both worked until very late in life. My grandfather is still working every single day even in his mid-90s.”
Crane said her grandparents taught her that the beginning of the aging process does not have to be the end of ordinary life.
“That part of aging is to become frail or that everyone becomes demented or that everyone has Alzheimer’s when they age is not true,” said Crane. “These diseases are treatable. While these diseases are common, they are not considered normal aging.”
This is the kind of hope that Crane brings to the hundreds of patients she sees as the clinical director of dementia care at the GAP program at Mercy Riverside.
GAP is a multi-disciplinary, outpatient assessment and treatment program designed to address the emotional, social, and functional health of those ages 55 and older. Patients who have experienced changes in level of function, memory loss, or loss of independence will undergo an evaluation and treatment process that emphasizes prevention, social connection, and minimizing risk factors.
“It is more of a holistic, team approach,” said Crane, who has been with GAP since 2007. “I work in a team with nurse practitioners, geriatric psychiatrists, and licensed clinical social workers, as well as RNs with a background in neurology and geriatric psychiatry care.”
Part of GAP’s team approach is a strong emphasis on including family members in the discussion and treatment process.
“Our goal is to preserve function and allow persons to maintain as much of their cognition as possible,” said Crane. “Our other goal is to teach families about disease prevention and how to manage their loved ones regardless of whether they’re in assisted living or at home.”
Further, Crane said that GAP also offers services of support to the family members, themselves.
“We have such strong social work service that we are able to work with very complicated situations,” she said. “We are able to offer individual and family counseling with regards to coping with loved ones with a dementing illness.”
One common misconception, Crane said, is that all cognitive illness in the aged is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are many other dementing illnesses that are progressive disorders,” said Crane. “They affect the frontal and the temporal lobes of the brain—frontotemporal dementia. It’s very different from Alzheimer’s because people can have very intact memories but have problems with motor skills with deterioration in functioning. The progression is much different than Alzheimer’s.”
Crane is presenting research in October at the International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementia. In addition to her work at GAP, Crane also is the director of the Senior Assessment Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center Cole Neuroscience Center Clinic. At Cole, Crane sees patients and performs research in neurodegenerative dementing illnesses.
She also sits on the board of directors for the Alzheimer’s Association.
While Crane is active in the academic community, she also takes time to educate the Knoxville community about the aging process and taking care of the elderly.
“I’ve done 30 or 40 community talks,” said Crane. “I really enjoy talking to communities and associations. I hope to help others recognize early signs of dementing illnesses.”
Crane also said it is important for programs like GAP to reach into the community because dementing illnesses affect people from every sector of society.
“There’s no one that’s truly preserved,” said Crane. “We see everyone from individuals who are very impoverished to those who are very highly educated… All of these diseases — while they are not curable, they are treatable. We still treat the disease.”
To some, Crane’s work may seem daunting and discouraging, but the St. Louis native seems to have found her niche.
“I love working with older adults. I love working with an interdisciplinary team … I love research. And I get to do all of that right now,” she said.
Crane lives in Knoxville with her husband, Luke Madigan, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at Knoxville Orthopaedic Clinic. They have two sons, who are 21 months old and 4 years old.
“Knoxville is a wonderful town,” said Crane, who grew up in St. Louis, attended Yale University for her undergraduate degree, Jefferson Medical College and the University of Pennsylvania for medical school and residency, respectively. “In a way, I don’t miss some of the opportunities we had in the northeast. We can always fly and visit.
“I feel like my career is very rewarding, I have a great husband and two really fun kids. And that’s about all you can ask for in life, I suppose. It’s wonderful. We plan to be here for a very long time.”