National Doctors Day Spotlight On…Joanna Dauber, D.O.

National Doctors Day

To mark National Doctors Day, we’re spotlighting Joanna Dauber, D.O., a family medicine physician and former FTD caregiver who is diligently working to amplify FTD awareness in the primary care setting.

When Dr. Joanna Dauber’s mother was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), she pivoted her career in nonprofit consulting to medicine, determined to “advocate for people who couldn’t advocate for themselves.

“Being able to connect with other people and hopefully help others in a way that I was not able to do for my mother has given me a lot of meaning,” Dr. Dauber told AFTD. “That was the reason I went back [to school] and decided to go into medicine.”

Her mother, Linda Dauber, began exhibiting unusual behavior in her late 50s, such as frequent falling, obsessive behavior, and a change in temperament.

“My family had noticed these small things over [time] but were dismissive, thinking it may just be clumsiness, aging, or depression. But after a fall down a full flight of stairs that landed myself and my mother in the emergency department — luckily, I broke her fall — I knew we needed additional answers,” Dr. Dauber wrote in an article featured in DelFamDoc, a peer-reviewed journal of the Delaware Academy of Family Physicians.

After a series of doctor’s appointments and lab tests, Dr. Dauber’s mother was diagnosed with PSP at the age of 59. Within a year and a half, Linda Dauber’s rapid disease progression left her immobilized; she went from walking with a cane to needing to use a wheelchair to move. In 2014, she died at the age of 61.

                            Linda and Joanna Dauber

When her mother was initially diagnosed, Dr. Dauber, who is now a family medicine resident at ChristianaCare Wilmington Hospital, said she was unfamiliar with PSP and was given little information about the disease. She leaned on self-learning, guidance from her mother’s family medicine doctor, and online forums to navigate her mother’s PSP journey. Dr. Dauber’s experience in caring for her mother led to her career in family medicine, where she hopes to increase awareness of FTD and its related disorders amongst other primary care physicians.

“I have a lot of patients that come in for evaluation for mental status changes or those who were exhibiting cognitive decline who were not in the typical age range that you would see for Alzheimer’s. I try to keep in the back of my mind other kind of diagnoses that could be occurring, and that not everything dementia-like is Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons,” said Dr. Dauber.

She added: “I thought it was important to raise awareness in a primary care setting about some of these symptoms so that hopefully patients can get to a diagnosis, and also to get information earlier in their disease process so that they can get things set up like having a living will, getting into a clinical trial, or doing brain donation so that people can study this further.”

Dr. Dauber expanded her PSP and FTD awareness efforts by joining AFTD as a Regional Coordinator volunteer for two years. She mentioned that it was important to get the message out to “not just patients and their families, but physicians also.”

In her DelFamDoc article, Dr. Dauber provided an overview of FTD, outlining its related subtype disorders and the current options available for FTD-related symptom management. She also advised other physicians who may be unfamiliar with FTD on how to care for persons diagnosed, specifically pointing to how a “family physician can play a huge role for those diagnosed with FTD.” The physician wrote that she hopes the article “may provide some guidance for [physicians] to support those families who end up with this dreadful diagnosis.”

Dr. Dauber reflected on her time volunteering with AFTD, saying, “It helped give a purpose to the sorrow that my family felt and that I felt personally. Getting more people involved in raising awareness is hopefully the next step in trying to find any sort of treatment or possibly cures. The more people we get involved, the better.”

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