Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rallying Around Alzheimer's Awareness

In this blog post, Victoria Aramini, president of the AFA on Campus chapter at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, relays how college students pulled together to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease—and found out that we’re all in this together.

If students and faculty at the College of the Holy Cross were not aware of Alzheimer’s disease before, they are now!

This past November, 20 students and I worked to execute the College of the Holy Cross’s first annual Alzheimer’s Awareness Day. This day marked the inaugural event held by the college’s AFA on Campus chapter, which I started a chapter at Holy Cross this fall.   AFA on Campus collaborated with three different groups on campus: SHAPE (Student Health Awareness Peer Educators), which promotes responsible decisions regarding health; COPE (Counseling Outreach Peer Educators), which strives to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues; and SPUD (Student Programs for Urban Development), whose mission is to improve social conditions of individuals in our surrounding area of Worcester, MA.

This project was extremely important to me. In August, I lost my grandmother (or Nonna, as we call her in Italian). Nonna had Alzheimer’s disease for years, and I cannot even begin to describe the pain I felt as the disease took over her body. I watched my mom and grandfather, my nonna’s primary caregivers, take care of her day in and day out. It made me angry that she appeared so helpless. I was mad Nonna forgot who I was. I was upset that the disease existed.

All of these feelings made me want to do something—and that’s how the first Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at Holy Cross came about.

Our campus chapter met several times prior to the actual day of the event. At our meetings, we brainstormed goals and tactics, and shared our personal stories related to Alzheimer’s disease with each other. We all realized that each of us was not the only one who had a loved one with the disease. It helped us connect with each other, motivate each other and successfully act together to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

We advertised the event with flyers, a mass e-mail that was sent out to the student body, and coffee sleeves that were labeled with stickers with information about the event.

On the actual day of the event, we hung balloons in our main campus center with facts about Alzheimer’s disease hanging from the bottom of the strings. For six hours, we staffed a table in the campus center, speaking to students and faculty and handing out educational materials. The information, which was provided by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), explained the disease, caregiving techniques and ways to promote a healthy brain lifestyle. We also had a copy of the “STOP Alzheimer’s” petition for students to read over and sign. In total, we collected more than 300 signatures!

The day was surely a success; the overall turnout was great, but the relationships we made were even better. When people who had a personal connection with the disease came by to sign the petition, they pulled either me or a member of the team aside and shared their experiences. People wanted to talk about how horrible the disease is and how their own lives had been affected by it. We received a lot of positive feedback after the event was over, including many people who congratulated our team for bringing a rarely-discussed topic to the front burner.

This is definitely a project that the Holy Cross community wishes to be a part of in the future, and hopefully that means the Alzheimer’s Awareness Day will be a tradition at Holy Cross!


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