Alzheimer#039;s adds stress to a busy student#039;s life

by Beacon Staff • September 20, 2006

Alzheimer's disease, however, is not something that often comes to the forefront of a student's mind.,College students often feel stressed out by the never-ending list of things that come with higher education; homework, exams, grades, finances and socializing are just some of the things that students find themselves worrying about every semester.

Alzheimer's disease, however, is not something that often comes to the forefront of a student's mind.

When people think of Alzheimer's disease, they think of the elderly-wrinkles, "old people" and grandparents.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, people over the age of 85 have a 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, as the disease is age related.

However, it is not just older patients who feel the effects of the disease. Families, caregivers and, ultimately, younger people also feel the pains of Alzheimer's.

When it comes to college students, many have grandparents that have or could develop Alzheimer's.

It is easy to overlook the effects this disease can have on a student's health.

"I always thought Alzheimer's only affected those who had it," said Christine Khaikin, an Emerson senior political communications student and intern at the Alzheimer's Association, "until I started working for the Association and experienced first hand the devastating emotional effects that the disease had on the family members of the patient."

Family members, in particular the younger ones, often experience high levels of stress when trying to cope with a loved one's having Alzheimer's.

As the disease slowly robs its victims of memory and the ability to care for themselves, family members are left caring for someone who is virtually a stranger.

Many students report that the worst part is watching their parent grieve for a mother or father who suffers from the disease. While Alzheimer's may not be in the imminent future for students, it is nonetheless a strong presence in many people's lives.

For Kristen Dorsey, a graduate of Stonehill College, Alzheimer's was the last thing she thought about until her grandmother died of the disease five years ago.

"I never really knew about Alzheimer's and just thought people in nursing homes had it and forgot stuff sometimes," she said.

"When my grandma got sick, it really crushed my family, and watching my mom go through that was just horrible."

Students should be aware that knowing someone with Alzheimer's can be just as stressful as other concerns of college life.

Dr. Paul Raia, a geriatric psychologist for the Alzheimer's Association in Boston who specializes in issues concerning the elderly and families of victims explains how Alzheimer's disease creates a variety of stressors that effect entire families and especially college-aged students.

"In many cases, parents become sandwiched between generations and are responsible as caregiver for both their parent and their child," he said. "This leaves kids, in particular college kids, feeling shortchanged and asking, "What about me?"

"Alzheimer's can have a devastating effect on families, because life as everyone knows it can change dramatically," adds James Wessler, President/CEO of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. "Education and support are so important when it comes to this disease. The more you know, the more prepared you are for the changes that occur."

The Alzheimer's Association provides support for the 140,000 people in Massachusetts who are living with the disease. The Association also provides programs that support families and friends of those with Alzheimer's.

With programs such as "Taking Control of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders," the Association works with Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers and families to create individualized methods that help maintain abilities longer and promote effective coping.

The Alzheimer's Association calls itself the world leader in research and support and the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to finding prevention methods, treatments and an eventual cure for the disease.

The Alzheimer's Association is reaching out across the state with its annual 2006 Memory Walk program.

Memory Walk is a non-competitive fundraising walk held every year and is designed to support the mission of the Alzheimer's Association, which is to educate people about the disease and to eventually conquer it.

Each year, participants sign up as teams or individuals and then collect pledges from their friends, family, coworkers, and others to raise as much money as possible.

Memory Walk is the national signature event of the Alzheimer's Association, and since 1989 it has raised more than $200 million to help those battling Alzheimer's disease.

These walks take place in more than 600 communities across the United States.

The Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walk for Greater Boston will be held on October 1, beginning at the Cambridgeside Galleria.

For more information on Alzheimer's disease, visit alzmass.org.