Clinic Sued for Misdiagnosing Dozens of Cases of Alzheimer’s

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Medical Malpractice A lawsuit against Toledo Clinic’s Cognitive Center alleges that dozens of former patients were misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The fear of being afflicted with dementia strikes nearly every senior citizen when they experience the ordinary memory lapses that accompany aging. To have that fear fueled by a diagnosis that turns out to be incorrect can only be a traumatic experience for an elderly malpractice victim.

Not all of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are senior citizens. Some were younger patients seeking treatment for brain injuries. Shawn Blazsek, age 33, attributed his memory lapses to concussions he sustained while playing football and boxing. He was so upset when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that he began to hoard sleeping pills, vowing to take them all if his disease rendered him unable to remember the names of his children.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

No single test can determine whether a patient suffers from Alzheimer’s. While dementia might be easily recognized in its later stages, diagnosing dementia generally requires a comprehensive medical evaluation that may include blood tests and brain imaging.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

Having trouble with memory does not mean you have Alzheimer’s. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking. When dementia-like symptoms are caused by treatable conditions — such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies — they may be reversed.

The diagnosis therefore involves ruling out other potential causes of memory loss. That process requires careful attention to the patient’s lifestyle and other factors that might explain confusion and memory lapses.

Unlicensed Medical Director

The Toledo Clinic Cognitive Center opened in 2015 in affiliation with the Toledo Clinic, a medical center that employs more than 150 doctors. The Cognitive Center was owned by Sherry-Ann Jenkins, who installed herself as its medical director.

Jenkins has a doctorate degree in physiological science but she is not an M.D. and is not licensed as a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to diagnose mental illnesses and neuropsychological testing is often used to determine cognitive impairment, but neither a physician nor a psychologist can legally diagnose or treat a mental health condition in Ohio without being licensed.

The fact that Jenkins was unlicensed came as a shock to patients of the memory-loss center. Once word began to spread, the center abruptly closed its doors. By that point, however, Jenkins had allegedly told dozens of patients that they had had Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. In most of those cases, she was wrong.

Lawsuit Allegations

More than fifty patients and their family members have sued Jenkins and the clinic. Most of the former patients allege that Jenkins misdiagnosed them as having Alzheimer’s. Some of the plaintiffs are still waiting to have their diagnosis confirmed or rejected by competent medical personnel.

The Toledo Clinic joined the lawsuit as a defendant. The suit claims that Toledo Clinic “should have known Jenkins lacked the training and credentials to treat and diagnose patients.” The lawsuit alleges that Jenkins’ husband, a physician who is a partner in Toledo Clinic, authorized medical tests that Jenkins could not legally order.

Jenkins was an advocate of holistic treatment, including daily doses of coconut oil. Some researchers theorize that Alzheimer’s is related to the inability of brain cells to metabolize glucose, and see coconut oil as an alternative source of brain nourishment. At this point, however, no credible research supports the theory that coconut oil consumption is effective in preventing or treating Alzheimer’s.

The attorney for the victims contends that Jenkins was motivated by greed. Jenkins was able to credit her “treatment” for the fact that her patients did not experience a rapid cognitive decline. Diagnosing patients with Alzheimer’s allowed her to bill them for continuing treatments, regardless of whether they had a treatable condition.

Lethal Consequences

The wife of a 68-year-old man told The Toledo Blade about her husband’s reaction when Jenkins told him that he suffered from Stage 3 Alzheimer’s.

He just shrunk in his chair and never stood tall again, never stood with confidence again,” said Mrs. Taynor, who herself had been diagnosed by Ms. Jenkins with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He went into a depression. He felt like he was going to become a burden. He didn’t know how he was going to take care of his wife, who also was diagnosed.

Taynor’s solution, the Blade reports, was to “put a bullet through his head.”

Several other patients had suicidal thoughts, believing that Jenkins had given them a death sentence. Some patients quit their jobs or sold their possessions, deciding they wanted to take a final trip or set their affairs in order before dementia robbed them of their ability to make decisions.

No criminal charges have been filed against Jenkins. The Ohio Medical Board questioned some of the patients, but whether it is investigating anyone associated with Toledo Clinic is unknown.

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