UCLA Alzheimer’s Awareness Group Takes on Loneliness In Seniors

Alzheimer’s disease has become one of the largest health care crises in the world, and with the aging population soaring, there also are more older people dealing with loneliness than ever before. One nonprofit organization has found a solution to help seniors with Alzheimer’s and other dementias socialize with college students – with an intent to connect with seniors aging at home.

The Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s (YMAA), based in Los Angeles, has formed a partnership with The UCLA Division of Geriatrics to create TimeOut@UCLA, a free on-campus day program that connects college students with older adults with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Nihal Satyadev, president and co-founder of The Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s, told Home Health Care News.

YMAA started as a club under a different name while Satyadev was attending UCLA in 2005 to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease around campus.

“Our organization got nonprofit status in 2009 but for a few years, it was dormant,” he said. “The co-founder of the original organization and I decided to co-found The Youth Movement in 2015 as a 501(c)(3). Since then it has grown into three parts: student caregiving, research scholarships, and advocacy.”

The mission of the organization is to encourage youth to be more engaged with the aging sector.

“Of the college students involved in the program many have picked up a minor in gerontology just based on what they’ve learned being in YMAA,” said Satyadev.

Millennial Companionship

As part of the UCLA Division of Geriatrics, the YMAA and the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program partnered up to get involved in TimeOut earlier this year. Timeout@UCLA program was one of three UCLA Geriatrics programs funded by a $320,000 grant from the Eisner Foundation, which focuses on bringing children and youth together with the elderly through intergenerational programming, Satyadev said.

The seniors in the program participate through UCLA’s dementia and Alzheimer’s program, which connects with people around the Los Angeles community.

“Our program is specifically designed for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia,” explained Satyadev. “There is a huge need in the community for a program like this. Right now, we have a waitlist of 90 seniors.”

Seniors in the program come to the UCLA campus two days per week for three hours each day to play games, do arts and crafts or talk about each others’ life experiences. The program also serves as a much-needed break from caregivers of the seniors, Satyadev added. Each quarter there are about 20-30 students who volunteer in the TimeOut program.

Scholarships and Research

In addition to the TimeOut program, YMAA also has a scholarship program, which started last year, to reward students who are conducting research related to Alzheimer’s disease.

The scholarship amount depends on how much YMAA raises each year, Satyadev said.

This year’s scholarship is for $1,000 and students from area colleges and universities were able to apply. There can be more than one recipient though.

Each recipient must be able to prove they have a secure year-long research position with a professor for the next school year, so in this case, students had to show they had something set up for the 2017/2018 school year at UCLA, UC Berkeley, Northwestern University or Tulane University.

Looking Toward the Future

To continue to increase awareness of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, YMAA allows other college campuses around the country to start their own chapters and become student leaders.

Currently, there are 33 chapters across the country at colleges and high schools, said Satyadev.

In addition, to build upon the TimeOut program, YMAA has the goal of becoming a social enterprise company.

“We are making the transition because we want to expand our respite care services programming, and it’s not always sustainable to rely only on grants and donations,” said Satyadev.

YMAA has not pinned down which affiliate school will start the pilot for the social enterprise company, but the goal is to market and talk to community stakeholders to connect with people with memory impairments living in their home.

“We don’t imagine this to be a senior living environment,” Satyadev explained. “It will be more for people who are still at home who want social interaction.”

The students who choose to volunteer with the social enterprise will be trained with respite care knowledge to specialize in working with people who have early-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia and with the UCLA Longevity Center’s Brain Bootcamp, which works with seniors who have early-stage memory impairments.

YMAA is striving to keep the cost as low as possible for the new program, Satyadev said.

“Once the students are trained we expect to combine the two programs [social enterprise and TimeOut] and charge much lower than market rate,” he said. “Utilizing our volunteers will also help keep costs low.”

Written by Alana Stramowski