David A. Drachman, MD, founding chair of neurology, dies at 84

Renowned neurologist, beloved teacher, pioneering researcher left rich legacy

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

December 07, 2016
  David A. Drachman, MD
 

David A. Drachman, MD

The UMass Medical School community is saddened by the death of the founding chair of neurology, David A. Drachman, MD, professor and chair emeritus of neurology. Dr. Drachman died Dec. 5. He was 84.

“Dr. Drachman, during his career as an internationally renowned neurologist, brought great esteem to UMass Medical School,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “He has left behind a rich and enduring legacy. To the medical community, he will be recalled as the author of the single most extensively referenced neurological paper, on the criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease; to his patients and colleagues, he will be regarded as an expert clinician to whom they could turn in a time of need; and to our institution, he will be remembered as the founding chair of our neurology department.”

In September, Chancellor Collins awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Clinical Excellence to Drachman, citing his rich and enduring legacy to UMMS and his dedication to his patients and the medical community at large.

As chair and professor of the Department of Neurology at UMass Medical School from 1977 to 2002, Drachman was one of the earliest proponents of research into the understanding of Alzheimer's disease. He earned international acclaim for his groundbreaking investigations into dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; the neurology of aging; and the diagnosis and treatment of dizziness. Possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of his specialty, he was a gifted and beloved teacher of medical students and neurology residents. He founded the UMMS chapter of Alpha Omega Alpha in 1996, the medical student honor society to which he himself had been elected while in medical school.

Drachman received his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College summa cum laude in 1952 and his medical degree from New York University College of Medicine in 1956. Following his internship in medicine at Duke University Hospital, and completion of his residency in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, he held teaching fellowships in neurology and neuropathology at Harvard University. He was also a clinical associate at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases.

He served as president of the American Neurological Association; chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of the National Alzheimer’s Association; a member of the Advisory Panel on Alzheimer’s Disease to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Congress; a member of the Advisory Panel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs; and chair of the Section on Geriatric Neurology of the American Academy of Neurology. Drachman was also instrumental in developing what is now the Alzheimer’s Association.

Drachman cherished his life’s work, saying, “The ability to serve as a devoted ‘fixer’ for human medical problems has been the focus of my life as a physician . . . assuring that in my hands, and in those of my colleagues, patients would always receive the best possible medical, personal and scientific care.”

He leaves his wife of 57 years, Eleanor; three children; six grandchildren; and two brothers. Following services on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Temple Isaiah in Lexington and burial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, the family is holding Shiva through Saturday, Dec. 10. Complete details are in the full obituary.

Donations in his memory may be sent to David A. Drachman Memorial Fund, J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge-Friends of the Refuge, One Wildlife Drive, PO Box 565, Sanibel Island, FL 33957, Dingdarlingsociety.org . Please select “memorial donation” in honor of David A. Drachman.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
Convocation 2016 recognizes Chancellor’s Medal recipients; faculty invested as named chairs

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