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Preserving memories

July 11, 1997

Preserving memories

Forgetful? It may be a treatable condition, doctor says

Eighteen letters have been added to the glass door of Potomac Neurology, PA - "Nechama Bernhardt, MD."

Bernhardt, a neurologist, joined Dr. Joel L. Rosenthal's practice at 322 E. Antietam St. on July 7.

"I was looking for an associate," said Rosenthal, 58. "And her expertise in memory disorders seemed to fill a niche in this community."

Bernhardt, 38, graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

She completed postgraduate training at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Philadelphia.

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The Silver Spring, Md., native is one of three neurologists with privileges at Washington County Hospital.

"Before I went into medicine, I was interested in neurology - in how the brain works," Bernhardt said.

"My undergraduate psychology courses made me interested in how the brain functions, how people think and behave, and how problems with the brain can influence both. I went into neurology because of the brain."

Memory disorders have many causes, including trauma, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Bernhardt explained.

"The persons themselves may be concerned that their memory is not what it should be," she said.

People sometimes assume the worst when their memory begins slipping, but treatable conditions - thyroid conditions, vitamin deficiencies, depression or stress - can also affect memory, she said.

Other times, the individual's family notices a change, like those associated with Alzheimer's disease.

"We don't use the terms 'senile' and 'pre-senile' anymore," Bernhardt said.

"There are changes in the brain and with memory as people age, but if grandma is starting to act more than a little forgetful, that's not just age. Sometimes we can do something to help her."

Current research and new drug development aim to treat Alzheimer's-type conditions, she said.

But the neurologist cautioned against falling for miracle cures.

"There's no one magic pill to help with memory because memory is a very complicated process," she said.

"There's verbal memory, spatial memory, memory of facts and figures - all are different in terms of how they are processed in the brain."

Neurologists diagnose and treat problems of the nervous system, including conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, seizure disorders and stroke.

"Just like a with a heart attack, people experiencing the beginning signs of stroke should get treatment as soon as possible," she said.

Two of those signs are weakness in the arms or legs and difficulty speaking, she said.

Neurologists also treat pain, weakness, numbness and carpal tunnel syndrome.

"We're living longer, and we want to live well as long as we can," Bernhardt said.

"I think in my lifetime we will be able to do a lot more to influence disease processes and help people."

Bernhardt and her husband, Michael Field, 37, who is a lawyer, live near Hagerstown Junior College.

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