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MMI's Adult Behavior Medicine Clinic making a difference

Image with caption: Niko, in front, visits with (from left) Cindy Ellis, M.D., Maggie Neujahr and Lisa Neitzke, Ph.D.

Niko, in front, visits with (from left) Cindy Ellis, M.D., Maggie Neujahr and Lisa Neitzke, Ph.D.

Twenty-six-year-old Niko has what his mother calls "behaviors."

He'll sing the same words over and over. He'll grab himself. Sometimes, he might try to grab others. Sharon, Niko's mother, believes that if Niko didn't have Down syndrome -- an identifiable developmental disability -- the people he meets in public might have called the police on him by now.

Niko also has a doctor -- Cindy Ellis, M.D., director of developmental medicine at the Munroe-Meyer Institute, a woman Sharon calls "a saint."

And Dr. Ellis has a plan to help Niko -- and other young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) facing their own challenges.

During two decades working for MMI, Dr. Ellis has seen a lot of her clients grow up. But she's also seen a lot of them face many challenges, as supports provided by the school system fall away and families are left with fewer services to help them cope with a developmentally disabled child who is coming into adulthood.

Now, with an eye toward helping Niko and others, Dr. Ellis has teamed with MMI's Lisa Neitzke, Ph.D., and social worker Maggie Neujahr to create the Adult Behavior Medicine Clinic, designed to provide services for adult patients with specialized needs.

The clinic's interprofessional team works to coordinate medical and behavioral treatment plans to identify and achieve the goals of the individual and family -- such as addressing disruptive behaviors, improving social skills, or combatting depression and anxiety.

The team draws on MMI's experience with the IDD population in a coordinated effort to help with these issues, bringing expertise to bear that cannot be found for adults with IDD in a more traditional, non-specialized care setting.

"There are not a lot of options in the community for some of our patients with disabilities who need a combination of medical and behavioral services," Dr. Ellis said. "Services for adults with developmental disabilities have few interprofessional teams that work together to provide coordinated care. This is a huge need."

The arrival of Dr. Neitzke, an MMI psychology fellow, provided the last piece of the puzzle for Dr. Ellis. Dr. Neitzke specializes in adult behavioral health care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and she already has won over Sharon with her dedication and skills.

"Last week, we had a great meeting with Dr. Neitzke," Sharon said. "Niko was doing a lot of his behaviors, and she was directing James, his extended family home provider, on what to do and how to handle that."

(Niko lives in an extended family home, a structured living environment for people with developmental disabilities that helps them develop social and independent living skills.)

"And I really like the fact that Maggie's here," Sharon said. Neujahr helps the family deal with stressful situations and find available community resources. "Between the three of them, we get great results."

Sharon's goal for Niko right now is to help enable him to stay in a room with more than one other person in it, which is challenging for him, as he becomes overstimulated. Dr. Neitzke and Dr. Ellis are working to improve Niko's social skills, which Sharon sees as key to improving Niko's quality of life.

Quality of life across the lifespan is key -- and right now, Dr. Ellis and her team are focused on improving the quality of life of adult MMI patients already followed by Dr. Ellis or Dr. Neitzke.

"These are our patients who have aged," Dr. Ellis said. "Right now, we don't take new patients from the community into this program.

"Still," she added, "MMI's ultimate goal is to provide more adult services, so who can say where we'll go in the future?"

The Adult Behavior Medicine Clinic is held monthly at MMI's Developmental Medicine Clinic at 412 S. Saddle Creek Rd.

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