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Alzheimer's Association, New York City Chapter

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It’s Time To Face The Challenge

Earlier this year a report was released by our Association estimating that 10 million American Baby Boomers will develop Alzheimer’s in their lifetimes. In commenting on the report, Stephen McConnell, National Alzheimer’s Association past vice president for advocacy and public policy, noted that although the age of highest risk for Alzheimer’s starts at 65, “Some of these people are already developing the disease, and those numbers are just going to increase dramatically…”. Mr. McConnell’s words should be shouted from the rooftops so health care professionals who are currently working in the field of dementia care will make a concerted effort to expand their services to meet the unique needs of these young-onset individuals.

In my work at the Association, I have seen a marked increase over the last ten years in the number of Baby Boomers (44 to 62 year olds) and their caregivers who contact the Chapter seeking counseling and other services. The questions I hear most often from these clients are: “I never expected something like this to happen. Aren’t I too young to get this diagnosis?” “Why isn’t there a drug I can take that will cure me?” “How will we make ends meet with one less salary and children still in school?” and “I don’t know what to do with my life now that I’ve lost my job. Do you have anything to offer?” This last question is one that certainly resonates with me as a somewhat ‘typical’ Baby Boomer who defines much of who I am by the work that I do. If my professional career were to come to such an unexpected end because of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other kind of dementia, what would I need to fill that interminable void?

A big part of the answer lies in the area most often referred to as Programs and Services. In earlier years, support groups provided opportunities for people (mostly those in their 70s and 80s) who wanted to meet with others like themselves to talk about the realities of living with early-stage dementia. Today, although many of our younger-onset clients are still benefiting from joining support groups, they are also asking for more… much more. As a result, professionals are being challenged like never before to create innovative affordable programming that will provide early-stage Baby Boomers with more satisfaction (remember that popular word from the 1960s!) than their older counterparts ever received.

So what are our Baby Boomer clients looking for? One of the most successful programs currently being offered at our Chapter is “MemoryWorks,” a two-hour weekly brain stimulation program that gives participants an opportunity to exercise their mental abilities in a structured, supportive, light-hearted environment. As each session ends, clients leave feeling satisfied with their brain workouts and happy to have spent time with others who are facing the same challenges that come from living with early memory loss. “Here & Now” is another weekly program that encourages participants to engage in lively discussions about current events and other timely items. When asked why she liked “Here & Now,” one client said, “Being in this group gives us a chance to express our own opinions. It reminds us that we can still think and speak out about what matters.”

Other areas of interest to Baby Boomers are those that can enhance physical and emotional well-being including tai chi, relaxation, meditation, yoga, music, dancing, nature walks, bird watching, photography, art appreciation and creative writing. Although some programs have been developed to reflect these interests, there are not nearly enough to meet the increasing needs of our younger-onset clients. It’s time then for professionals to step up to the plate and accept the challenge of creating as many programs as we can possibly think of that will provide our Baby Boomer clients with the satisfaction they so rightly deserve. Let’s get started!

— Paulette Michaud
Director, Early-Stage Services

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