UCLA Students Rally against Alzheimer's

By Balakrishnan, Shweta; Giurgius, Shadee | Aging Today, July/August 2011 | Go to article overview

UCLA Students Rally against Alzheimer's


Balakrishnan, Shweta, Giurgius, Shadee, Aging Today


Medical student Brandon Kuiper, who specializes in geriatric psychiatry, remembers the day his great-grandmother Trudy stopped playing her favorite tunes on the piano. She claimed she could no longer read the music, but he knew this wasn't the case. She couldn't recall the notes she once played from memory.

He remembers when she became paranoid that her husband had moved in with the lady next door. He listened while his grandfather, full of hesitation and with anguish in his voice, said, "Dad didn't leave you, Mom. Dad's been dead for six years." He remembers eagerly approaching her to extend birthday wishes, and how powerless he felt when she asked him, "Who am I sitting next to?"

Trudy died in 2007, but Kuiper, who was very young at the time his greatgrandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, is now an active member of the student advocacy group UGADA (Universal Gerontology and Alzheimer's Disease Awareness).

Kuiper's story is only one of the scenarios America's youth will soon face. By the year 2030, the last of the baby boomers will have turned age 65, and the population of those older than age 65 will increase from 30 million to about 72 million. An alarming two-thirds of these baby boomers will develop at least one chronic disease. One of the most is menacing Alzheimer's.

Every 69 seconds someone develops Alzheimer's disease and, according to the Alzheimer's Association, it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. From 2000 to 2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases, while Alzheimer's deaths have risen 66%. And there is no cure in sight. An estimated 10 million baby boomers will develop this disease, making it almost certain that each and every one of us will have a friend or family member with Alzheimer's.

UGADA Make It Happen

Over the next 10 to 30 years, public policy and the economy will be determined by Generations X and Y. As Dr. Debra Cherry, executive vice president of the Alzheimer's Association, California Southland Chapter, puts it, "They are the future scientists, physicians and legislators whose engagement now will assure we have future leaders to combat the disease's onslaught and to support those who are afflicted."

In 2005, as students at UCLA, we observed that there were campus groups advocating cancer research, AIDS awareness and other diseases, but realized there was no youth group dedicated to aging and Alzheimer's. We decided to change this.

With the advice of Yeva Delband, Melissa Goldman, Karen J. Miller, Ph.D., and Dr. Isaac Yang, we created the Universal Gerontology and Alzheimer's Disease Awareness (UGADA) Association. Commonly known as UGADA: The Youth Movement, the group is a nonprofit committed to promoting Alzheimer's awareness among high school, college and graduate students. We believe that by spreading knowledge and creating a sense of urgency, our peers will become more invested in aging and Alzheimer's.

"One of the greatest challenges we face in dealing with Alzheimer's disease is in expanding public awareness of the illness. This is a disease that attacks peopie as they age, and the youth of our nation has not fully appreciated how it will affect their lives. UGADA is at the forefront of reversing this trend," says our advisor Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of iBraim Surviving the Technological Alternation of the Modern Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

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