Dementia Understanding Opportunity (DUO)

General Information about DUO


The Knight ADRC’s Dementia Understanding Opportunity (DUO) program began in the fall of 2012 and continues to be a strong student and community activity.


The DUO program pairs 1st and 2nd year medical students from Washington University School of Medicine with a community volunteer, called a mentor, who has a dementia diagnosis. Through this relationship, a medical student can learn from his or her mentor’s experience and appreciate what it is like to live with a dementia diagnosis. When appropriate, it can also be beneficial to learn about how the life of the care partner and family has changed post-diagnosis.


Recent DUO Participants


The DUO program was modeled after the “Buddy Program” at Northwestern University School of Medicine, and was also informed by the “PAIRS” program at Boston University School of Medicine. Our Program is designed on the premise that, despite a dementia diagnosis, persons can maintain a meaningful quality of life. The DUO program combats the stigma that people with a diagnosis are defined by their disease. In spite of the cognitive and physical changes, they are still unique individuals with stories, experiences and ideas to share.


The DUO Program Goals are:


  • Educate first and second-year medical students about dementing disorders through non-clinical exposure to affected individuals and monthly education sessions.

  • Heighten awareness of the skills and strengths which remain in people with dementia.

  • Provide a firsthand opportunity to see how someone with a dementia responds to his/her changing abilities.

  • Familiarize students with care and support-related issues encountered by persons with dementia and their families.

  • Become familiar with the most effective ways of communicating with persons with dementia.

  • Introduce students to research and other career opportunities in neurology, geriatrics, psychiatry, and related fields through monthly education sessions and optional shadowing opportunities.

  • Provide individuals with dementia with an opportunity to mentor a medical student and influence their future clinical practice.

  • Provide individuals with dementia an opportunity for preserved self-awareness, self-esteem and mood enhancement.

The DUO program is designed for first and second year medical students and persons with mild memory loss. If you are interested or somebody that you know might be interested, you can find more information in the Info for Students and Info for Diagnosed Individuals tab on this page.


You can also contact Jennifer Phillips ( for additional information.

Information for Students





First and second year medical students at Washington University School of Medicine with an interest in learning more about individuals with dementia are encouraged to apply for the DUO program. The program runs for 8 months (October-May) with a time commitment of about 3 hours per month.




  • Attendance at two orientation sessions

  • Pre and Post knowledge testing

  • Attendance at a DUO Match luncheon

  • Spending 2 face-to-face hours a month with partner from October-May

  • Monthly hour-long lunch meeting with program directors and student participants

  • Brief activity and impressions summary following each DUO meeting

  • End of the program reflection paper

  • Attendance at end of the year gathering


Orientation Sessions


There are two required orientation meetings totaling 3 hours. Orientation covers the etiology, progression and treatment of dementia, as well as practical information on communication, caregiving, and the subjective experience of dementia.


Throughout orientation, (and over the course of the year) the students have the opportunity to visit the Memory Diagnostic Clinic, the Memory and Aging Project, various laboratories, and meet the faculty and staff – neurologists, neuropsychologists, psychiatrists, geriatricians, social workers, therapists, and research technicians.


Lunch is provided to students at each of the orientation & monthly meetings, and the meetings are scheduled around their first year exams and course obligations.


Pre and Post Knowledge Testing


The DUO Program hosts an IRB-approved study that is looking at student attitudes when paired with a partner with Alzheimer disease. Students participating in DUO have the choice to opt in or opt out of the research study. This does not affect your continued participation in DUO. All DUO student participants are required to complete pre- and post-tests designed to measure your knowledge, attitudes, and comfort regarding AD and people with dementia. For students who consent to participate in the research, we will include the anonymous results of your pre- and post-tests in the data pool. For those who decline, your results will not be included.


DUO Match Event


DUO partners are paired by the program directors based on common interests and availability. The Match Party is a festive event that brings the diagnosed individuals, their families, students, and center staff together. Here, the Duos meet each other for the first time. Family members also get to know the student, as they often facilitate the monthly visits.


This event is held in late October and lunch is provided.


Getting Together


The time and place of meetings, and appropriate buddy activities, are determined by the person with dementia, the family, and the student. DUO partners are provided with a handout of local things they might do together. The program coordinators are also available for suggestions. Students and mentors are each expected to provide their own transportation for monthly get-togethers.


Monthly Student Meetings


In addition to the 2 hours spent with their partners, students are required to attend hour-long monthly process meetings. These meetings are facilitated by Knight ADRC staff and provide students an opportunity to share how things are going, ask questions about the disease, express any concerns they have and receive guidance and support. Based upon the students’ interest, educational presentations by ADRC clinicians and other invited speakers are scheduled during these meetings.

Lunch is provided and meetings are scheduled around the student’s class and exam schedules.


Activity Reports and Reflection Paper


After each visit, the students are asked to write a summary of their visit experience and keep a journal throughout the year. These confidential reports, which are sent to the program directors, not only briefly describe the activity, but also describe their partner’s mood and behavior, and the student’s reflections. These journal entries have become the foundation for a qualitative analysis of the DUO Program providing a richer understanding about the students’ experience than the pre-and post-tests of dementia knowledge alone.


At the end of the year, we also ask students to complete a reflection essay detailing their experience in the program. This is a brief, informal paper summarizing the students’ experience. They are asked to discuss how the program has affected their understanding of the diagnosed person’s and family’s experience, and what they hope to take from this into their future practice.


End of Year Gathering


The DUO Program End of the Year Party is held in May. This date is scheduled based upon the students’ class and exam schedule. In addition to inviting the DUO pairs, family members and friends are also invited to attend. The party is a celebration of the year together and a chance for the partners to share their experiences with others. We ask pairs to share thoughts and reflections of their time together, in addition to any pictures, photos, or creations they may have crafted together. Refreshments are provided at this event.


Additional Benefits


In addition to enrichment received from interactions with a person with dementia and care partners, students who complete the program will also receive several other benefits.


Each student is given a Certificate of Commendation from John C. Morris, M.D., Director and Principal Investigator of the Knight ADRC and the DUO Program Directors, Andrea Denny, JD, MSSW, and Jennifer Phillips, MPA. A letter is placed in the student’s Medical School file outlining the involvement of the program.


If agreed upon by the DUO partner and arranged by the MDC, students may have the opportunity to accompany their partner to her scheduled clinic appointments. These visits give students an opportunity to observe neurological, neuropsychological, and/or psychiatric assessments. At the Memory and Aging Project, students also have the opportunity to observe clinical assessments and attend weekly rounds and seminar series.


You can contact Jennifer Phillips ( for additional information.

Information for Diagnosed Individuals


Program directors emphasize the requirements of the program throughout the recruitment process so that individuals can adequately evaluate their ability to participate. The requirements are listed below:


  • Documented diagnosis of a dementia in the early stage.

  • The ability to demonstrate an understanding of the basic concept of the program and willingness to spend a minimum of time each month with a medical student;

  • Free of significant behavioral problems that would make it difficult to engage in an activity with a medical student;

  • Ability to converse adequately to convey and comprehend a verbal message;

  • Sufficient hearing;

  • Free of functional impairments that would require assistance or supervision (i.e., assistance with toileting);

  • Live within a certain geographic distance (determined by the student) that is accessible and not burdensome for the students.

  • Have a family member or friend who can be involved in the program and contacted in case of emergency.

  • Able to spend 2 face-to-face hours a month with the student partner from October-May.

  • Has, or can arrange, transportation to and from DUO activities.


Interviews are required to ensure that participant criteria are met, and that diagnosed persons and families understand the expectations of the program. During the interview, participation requirements are discussed. It is also during this time that staff learn of any partner preferences, such as: for a specific gender, for someone who speaks a specific second language, or interest in the arts or sports.   Selected diagnosed individuals and families are provided with written material about the DUO Program at the beginning of the program each year.


It is expected and required that students and mentors are able to independently provide transportation to monthly meetings.


Please contact Jennifer Phillips via email at or by phone at (314) 286-2882 for additional information.



The DUO Program schedule for the 2015-2016 cohort is listed below. Dates and times may change, but future years will follow a similar sequence of events.


Friday, Oct 2

Noon – 1:30pm


Student Orientation #1*


Friday, Oct 9

Noon – 1:30pm


Student Orientation #2*


Weds, Oct 21

Noon – 1:30pm


DUO Program Match Event


Weds, Nov 4

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, Dec 2

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, Jan 6

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, Feb 3

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, Mar 2

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, April 6

Noon – 1:00pm


Monthly Meeting*


Weds, May 11

Noon – 1:00pm


DUO Program End-of-Year Celebration


Friday, May 27



Program Evaluations and Reflection Papers Due*





*event for students only


In addition to these events listed, each DUO pair will meet once per month for 2 hours at a time and place agreed upon by the mentor and student. You can contact Jennifer Phillips ( for additional information.