Alzheimer’s and Young Professionals

Below is a message from former YPAA Chair, Jerome Davidovich.

I am a firm believer that the awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease needs to be driven into the younger demographics of our society. While this disease has developed the moniker of “the Old Persons Disease”, it is effecting people at an ever younger age and people must be aware of the basic facts of the disease and what resources are available to both those with the disease, and the families.

I was a junior in high school when my grandmother (Baba Vera) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. A brief description of my Baba—she was an out-going loving woman. Her home was always open to members of the community for support and friendship. She had a burning fire that allowed her to not be afraid to voice her opinion and fight fervently for what she believed in. She was the one that everyone knew, loved and feared.

When I found out about her diagnosis, I had never heard of this disease and was confused about the scope of it for some time. I didn’t know where to turn for information, aside from the Internet, and felt that this was an uncommon situation for folks my age, so I did not speak about it with friends. After high school, I moved cross-country to go to college and would come home once or twice a year for winter and summer breaks. While I didn’t experience the day-to-day stresses of caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s, I did see drastic changes in her day-to-day functions.

However, even with these large changes, I refused to fully accept the fact that once this disease takes hold, it does not release its grip—in fact it squeezes tighter. Part of the reasoning behind my stubbornness to accept this disease was the fact that whenever I would come home after 6 or more months, my Baba would recognize me immediately and the conversations would go on as if nothing changed. There was one moment that forced me to accept this fact, and it was a crushing blow.

I had decided to surprise my family with a trip home for Thanksgiving one year. After ringing the doorbell, my grandmother answered the door with a blank look on her face, followed by “May I help you?” I was forced, at this moment, to accept the fact that my Baba was declining, and would continue to decline further away from the Baba that I knew and loved. Being so far away, I felt helpless and didn’t have anywhere to turn.

A few years later she had declined to a point that required she be moved to a nursing home that could provide better care. While she was receiving very good care, each visit became harder and harder because I could see her mind and body continue to deteriorate. It would decline rapidly, to the point that she was with us in body, but not in spirit.

Baba suffered with the disease for 12 years, before passing away in October of 2011.

I had brought up the topic of Alzheimer’s a couple of times with friends and while most of them had heard of it, they didn’t fully understand the disease. I did however find a few people that knew others suffering with the disease and they shared this feeling of helplessness. Through these conversations, I realized that we couldn’t accept the helpless feeling towards the disease and needed to do something.

My wife Amy and I reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association and they put us in contact with this brand new young professionals group that was forming called AlzTogether. This group has done, and continues to do, great things for the cause. While with this group, I was able to meet and witness both incredible and heart wrenching stories of exactly how much this disease has affected the younger demographics of our society.

At the time of my Baba’s death, we had recently moved to the Baltimore area and realized that there was not a group for young professionals in the area. With my Baba’s fire in my heart, I was determined to create a similar group in the Baltimore area with the sole purpose of raising awareness of the disease and provide a resource for people affected to come and know that they are not alone.

With this, and a lot of other great people, the Young Professionals for Alzheimer’s Awareness (YPAA) was born. In the past 2 years we have held social events, raised funds for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and participated in the Alzheimer’s Association national Advocacy Forum where we met with members of Congress and the Senate to help push for change. I have met truly extraordinary individuals that are experiencing this brutal disease first hand and others are contributing to the disease through research, advocacy, and care.

As we look to the upcoming year, I see great things continuing to happen for the group and many more people to reach. I ask that we all do what we can to help with spreading awareness of this disease. I look forward to the upcoming events and meeting all of you at those events.

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