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Fighting Alzheimer's

How the YMAA Is Preparing the Next Generation of Caregivers

Photos: Courtesy of Patricia Lake

Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s (YMAA) is an advocacy group that helps caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s. Nihal Satyadev, founder of YMAA, said he first got involved in Alzheimer’s research when his grandmother was diagnosed. 

“What I realized at the time was that research is not the only way to address this issue,” he said. “The challenges we’re facing with regards to Alzheimer’s is not just the fact that it’s very expensive. We’re also severely lacking in human resources. There are so many people who are in the 55-65 age group and there are fewer young people being born. That’s going to create a demographic in this country we’ve never seen before.”

As demographics shift to an increasingly older population, the healthcare system is currently not equipped to handle the burdens of care. Satyadev has found the greatest burden for those living with Alzheimer’s can fall on family caregivers. In founding YMAA, Satyadev wants to get young people engaged in caregiving work early and help ease the burden on the healthcare system. 

“The first thing we had to do was let other people our age know this was an imminent threat to our own healthcare access,” Satyadev said, “to frame Alzheimer’s not just as a disease that affects old people but really as a disease that poses an imminent threat to our entire healthcare system.” 

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A growing movement

YMAA now has 42 chapters in 15 states, working in colleges and high schools to offer respite care, in which student volunteers are paired with older adults who have Alzheimer’s. 

“By creating a program like this, we’re not only able to reduce those rates of stress and depression, we also incentivize these students to look into careers in aging and understand what it’s like working with the older population,” Satyadev said.

The pandemic has also provided an opportunity for people to reckon with the weaknesses in our healthcare system, as well as the negative impacts of social isolation that people living with Alzheimer’s face daily. 

“Social isolation for older adults was a huge problem before the pandemic and that’s been quite significantly magnified,” he said. “There’s now a national reckoning with how little infrastructure our healthcare system has built for older adults. We see the coronavirus taking over nursing homes like it’s nothing, we see older adults being locked away not able to see family, and having been in the lockdown ourselves, we see how difficult it is to be socially isolated. That sort of personal realization has always been the driving force for why we wanted to connect students with this generation.”

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