My Alzheimer’s journey started with a 15 year stint as a caregiver for my mother. For three of these years, my mother lived in my house and my life totally changed.
After my mother died I started the Alzheimer’s Awareness Program for students in the schools. To develop this program I partnered with Mr. Scott Russell, an early onset person. Our program has been in existence for over four years now. Each year we visit over 50 classrooms from third grade up, including college classes in counseling, health, social work, education and nursing.
In addition to our interactive classroom presentations, which are linked directly to school curriculums and the common core, we have branched out into additional components to bring even greater awareness to our youth. For example, we have students in the schools do research and go to Hartford each year to advocate with the legislative people. We also have letter writing campaigns and have our own Kid’s Walk and Karnival for Alzheimer’s each year. We are the only well-established intergenerational program of this type in the nation.
During the second year of the program our students wrote and published a kid’s book on Alzheimer’s disease and wrote an original song for fundraising. Along with the project students started making Alzi Animals, which they sell at walks. To promote the walk our students also sponsor a Night of Music for Alzheimer’s with all kid musicians and singers, partner with a ski store for a fundraiser and build an Alzheimer’s float for the Memorial Day parade in Ridgefield.
Our new project this year is to have students raise money for IPods and playlist for those with Alzheimer’s. Students first take an oral history on a patient from his/her relative and put songs on the playlist from the patient’s life. This program is based on the move entitled Alive Inside, and is being done at a local nursing home with an Alzheimer’s unit.
Two years ago I received a special award from AARP for my work with Alzheimer’s and I was able to donate $3,000 from this award to the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter. I am a professor of education and literacy at Western Connecticut State University and use my teaching skills in this new and necessary venue.