Alzheimer's disease touches millions of American families, but we often associate it only with the elderly. Lately, though, thanks to the efforts of various celebrities and the attention of Hollywood, our society is focusing more on generating awareness that Alzheimer's is an important issue for younger generations as well. The popular actor and comedian Seth Rogen, for example, has helped publicize the issue to a younger crowd through his fundraising organization Hilarity for Charity, which works closely with college organizations. The disease was also highlighted most recently when Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her role in Still Alice, a movie that painfully depicts the reality of younger-onset Alzheimer's. This powerful film dramatizes the importance of the entire family in caring for a loved one, and how Alzheimer's is not just an "elderly" illness; it affects mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles and friends of all ages.
As the Director of Family and Community Services at Banner Alzheimer's Institute, I work with many families who have different care situations but share the same focus: to help create a better quality of life for those living with this progressive chronic disease. This Mother's Day, it is important to explore how millennials can make a difference in the care of a loved one with Alzheimer's, especially to benefit the women who disproportionately fill the exhausting role of caregivers. Becoming an Alzheimer's advocate also helps to raise awareness about the disease and the important research being led to end Alzheimer's before another generation is lost. Here are some ways that all of us can play an important role:
Help conduct research for parents who are busy caring for a grandparent or loved one
Millennials are typically savvy when it comes to all things technology. Caregivers often don't have time to attend support groups or read resources online. Millennials can provide a caregiver an extra hand by reading and sending articles on the latest research and innovations in care, finding helpful videos online, listening to webinars directed towards caregivers, and reporting back highlights. For example, Banner Alzheimer's Institute hosts a monthly webinar series called "Dementia Dialogues," discussing different aspects of the disease with caregivers on topics like Alzheimer's medications and traveling with an Alzheimer's patient.
Offer a caregiver some respite by filling their shoes for a few hours, while spending quality time with a grandparent or loved one with Alzheimer's
Caregiving is an exhausting task, and everyone needs a break once in a while. Offer to provide a caregiver in your life a chance to run errands or go out with friends while you spend time with a loved one with Alzheimer's. Activities like going on a walk, listening to music, watching their favorite sport or playing with a family pet can provide great bonding time. Learning how to care for someone with Alzheimer's is an important skill and will help you develop a new, deeper bond with your family members.
If distance is an issue, call regularly to check in and brighten your family's day
A parent who is caring for an Alzheimer's patient may need encouragement and a chance to express what they're going through, because Alzheimer's is a family disease and affects everyone - not just the patient. Make sure you check in with them to see how they are handling everything and whether they are getting enough rest and relaxation time. Keep in mind that listening is probably the most important thing they need from you - not advice!
Join the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry to stay up to date on the latest Alzheimer's research and clinical trials happening in your community
Healthy people are critical to new Alzheimer's prevention research coming down the pipeline. One way young, healthy individuals can get involved is by joining the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry. The Registry is an online community of people who have been touched by Alzheimer's in some way and are dedicated to ending this horrible disease. Registry members receive news updates about Alzheimer's research, brain health and upcoming clinical trials. They also connect on the Registry's social media pages (Facebook & Twitter) to share stories, get advice and find inspiration. You can join the Registry today here: www.endalznow.org.