Brandeis Students to End Alzheimer’s (SEAD) held an Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Week at Brandeis, rallying the community in support of those who suffer from the neurodegenerative disease. Over five million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s, but the disease affects many more people than that. SEAD, a new club on campus which started just this semester, hosted the “Alzheimer’s Research Award Ceremony” for Professor Angela Gutchess (PSYC) and held other events to build support and awareness.
Arielle Keller ’16, founder and co-president of SEAD, spoke to The Brandeis Hoot about the club’s awareness week. She explained that the group hopes to open up a dialogue about Alzheimer’s among young people on the Brandeis campus. Their efforts, she said, are “important not only for raising awareness about the cause, but also for forming a supportive community for those affected.”
SEAD aims to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s by involving the Brandeis Community in the Alzheimer’s Association’s events like “The Longest Day,” providing on-campus outreach to students affected by the disease and supporting research both at Brandeis and in general. They plan to hold a bi-weekly journal club in the coming fall semester, which will allow students to discuss new findings in Alzheimer’s research. Keller argued that many students are interested in Alzheimer’s research but didn’t have many opportunities. “A lot of people have asked us, ‘Why hasn’t this happened before?’ and want to get involved with the club,” Keller said.
The club began their awareness week with a “Wake and Shake” outside of Usdan, where club members gave out coffee and donuts to passing students and encouraged them to take pictures showing their support for the cause. They hosted a “Cupcakes for a Cause” event later that day. The event gave students the opportunity to decorate purple cupcakes in support of Alzheimer’s. SEAD hosted other cupcake decorating events throughout the week as well.
On Wednesday, SEAD hosted a phone bank in the Castle Commons where students could volunteer to call those who have donated to Alzheimer’s research and thank them for their help.
They will also be hosting a “Promise Garden” in the Fellow’s Garden all day on Friday. SEAD will be telling students about their “Longest Day” team and encouraging them to get involved with their fundraising and awareness efforts.
Gutchess, an associate professor of psychology, was honored for her work in Alzheimer’s research in a ceremony on Tuesday. She works at Brandeis’ Volen Center for Complex Systems. Gutchess’ lab for Aging, Culture and Cognition has published several works and, according to their website, explores “the effects of age and culture on memory and social processes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral measures.” Gutchess received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan.
SEAD’s Alzheimer’s Awareness week worked to address a lack of knowledge about the disease in the general population. “Our goal this week is to get the word out that Alzheimer’s disease is a prevalent, deadly, and grossly under-recognized disease.”
The club’s Facebook page, as part of the awareness week, featured Brandeis students and researchers sharing their stories. One of these stories came from Jonathan Jackson, a post-doctoral research fellow at Brandeis and Massachusetts General Hospital. He explained, in an interview with club member Sarah Lipitz ’17, the delay between when someone first develops Alzheimer’s and when he or she is diagnosed with the disease.
“Imagine what your chances of survival would be if cancer or heart disease were overlooked for 20 years. Once we close that gap with AD—and we already are—we will succeed in ending Alzheimer’s disease before the first day of forgetfulness,” Jackson said.
Fear and lack of knowledge about Alzheimer’s, Jackson explained, gives the disease more power. He argued that people are afraid to talk about Alzheimer’s because of the stigma that comes with mental illness. Part of why the awareness week is so important is the impact that having a strong social circle has on combatting the effects of Alzheimer’s.
SEAD will continue to work to build support for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and those who are affected by the disease.