Kara Jacobsen, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Alzheimer's San Diego
High school students and future world-changers, Madhavi Akella and Megan Dang, prove you can make a difference in the lives of people living with dementia at any age. Madhavi and Megan, although from different high schools, are both active Youth Ambassadors with Alzheimer’s San Diego. In this role, they volunteer for events like the Walk4ALZ and Rides4ALZ, and raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease through social media and other projects.
Madhavi Akella, 17, is a junior from Scripps Ranch High School in the San Diego Unified School District. She first got connected with Alzheimer’s San Diego when searching for opportunities related to her passion for public health and the sciences. She was moved to start volunteering as a Virtual ALZ Companion last May, after seeing how Alzheimer’s affected her great-aunt. The Companion program pairs trained volunteers with people living with dementia based on common interests, personality, and location. Madhavi was matched with Doug McGraw who has Frontotemporal Dementia or FTD, a rare form of dementia that impacts younger populations, with a majority of cases occurring in people ages 45-64.
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Madhavi & Doug
“After our first virtual visit, there was a moment where his wife was adjusting the webcam and he immediately recognized me and was excited to chat,” Madhavi explains. “I was super surprised. I expected him to not remember me at all. I was used to what I experienced with my great-aunt. But FTD doesn’t normally impact memory.”
The experience opened her eyes to the fact that there are a lot more types of dementia than just Alzheimer’s disease. She says volunteering has also taught her invaluable skills like patience and empathy, which has helped her become a more compassionate person.
After spending time with Doug, Madhavi was inspired to create the Youth Ambassadors program to encourage people her own age to become Alzheimer’s advocates.
For their first project, the Youth Ambassadors began making short, engaging videos for the social media platform Tik Tok to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and reach a younger audience. Their very first video has already been viewed hundreds of times!
Megan Dang, age 16, learned her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just a few years ago. Her initial thought was one people often have: “Oh, she’s just going to be losing her memory, this is normal aging.” However, she was shocked to see the effects of the disease went far beyond memory loss when she attended an anniversary party for her grandparents.
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“The entire night my grandmother didn’t want to come out of her room because she didn’t remember most of my family members. She was super scared and seemed to be hallucinating that she was back in Vietnam. I just saw a completely different side to her,” Megan explains.
Seeing firsthand how this disease causes so much heartbreak, Megan and her brother were motivated to start the Alzheimer’s Awareness Club (AAC) at San Pasqual High School within the Escondido Union School District. She reached out to Alzheimer’s San Diego for more information and the group was connected to the Youth Ambassadors program. Some of their talent show videos can be seen on the Alzheimer’s San Diego Facebook page, where they posted videos of themselves singing, dancing, and playing instruments as a way to entertain people living with dementia throughout the pandemic.
As President of AAC, Megan has helped AAC members widen their impact to residents at the Oakmont of Escondido Hills memory care facility. Before COVID-19, the AAC volunteers would spend time doing in-person visits with facility residents, but as the situation evolved, they began connecting as pen pals through monthly handwritten letters and holiday care packages.
It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s made a world of a
difference in the lives of these residents.
To read the full article and learn more about the impact youth have had, visit the Alzheimer’s San Diego website.