FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 7, 2012
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Announces 2012 College Scholarship Recipients
Teens Chronicle Personal Experiences with Alzheimer’s Disease in National Competition
NEW YORK, NY— A Baltimore teen is inspired to become a geriatric physician after spending three years interacting with people with Alzheimer’s disease at a geriatric clinic at a prestigious hospital. An Orlando-area teen shared a special bond with his grandfather while caring for him for five months until he passed away. And a Hartford-area teen finally confronts the harsh realities of Alzheimer’s disease through her writing.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) has awarded these three teens the top honors in the AFA Teens for Alzheimer’s Awareness College Scholarship, an annual competition sponsored by AFA.
Taking first place, Grace Kearney, 18, of Baltimore was awarded a $5,000 scholarship; Caleb Julin, 17, of Altamonte Springs, FL received the first runner-up award of $500; and Olivia Vehslage, 17, of Wethersfield, CT was named second runner-up, earning a $250 award.
They are among a pool of nearly 1,800 applicants who submitted essays for the national competition. AFA established the college scholarship in 2008 to give teens a creative outlet to express how Alzheimer’s disease has impacted their lives and others in their family and community. It is one of the many initiatives of AFA Teens, a division to educate and engage teens in the cause.
“There is a misconception that Alzheimer’s disease affects only the aging population, but here we illustrate and reinforce that this disease affects an entire family, right down to the children,” said Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and CEO. “The winners’ essays underscore the importance of connecting with people with dementia—a powerful lesson that left an indelible mark on their own lives and will hopefully inspire other young people.”
Currently, an estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately one million children and young adults nationwide care for sick or disabled parents and grandparents; Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are the most prevalent illnesses, according to a survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and United Hospital Fund.
The essays submitted for the competition reflect heartfelt and personal experiences with Alzheimer’s disease through the lens of the younger generation. In general, they demonstrate common themes familiar among those who have witnessed this disease rob people of their memories, communication skills and personalities: learning how to be patient, compassionate and resilient—traits that stem from having a loved one forget the teen’s name or who they are, frustrations of having to repeat oneself multiple times, or the challenges of caregiving responsibilities.
Kearney’s award-winning essay chronicled her experience interning throughout high school as a research assistant at the geriatric psychiatry clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and interacting with elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease. The internship fueled her life-changing decision to pursue a career in geriatric medicine. Kearney, a graduating senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, will attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA in the fall.
Her time at the clinic, under the guidance of Peter Rabins, M.D., MPH, director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Program at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a prominent expert on Alzheimer’s disease, opened her eyes to see the world from the perspective of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
“Months of observing the same sad scene reveal the futility of trying to convince Alzheimer’s patients they are wrong,” Kearney wrote in her essay. “These patients are not waiting to be brought back to the real world; they are seeking someone who will validate their version of reality.”
Differently, Julin’s essay recalled the period in which his grandparents moved into his home so that his family could care for his grandfather, Stan Julin, who lived with Alzheimer’s disease for four years prior to his death last June. As one of his relative’s caregivers, the high school senior from The Geneva School in Winter Park, FL, earned the nickname “The Alzheimer’s Whisperer” because of his ability to understand and communicate with his grandfather better than others in the family.
“I do not regret for a moment taking care of my grandfather,” he said. “As hard as it was to do, I have been rewarded ten-fold,” said Julin, who will attend Bryan College in Dayton, TN in the fall.
And, mirroring one of the contest’s objectives to prompt teens to express their feelings about Alzheimer’s disease, Vehlsage described how writing is a way to remember her grandmother, Ruth Lyon Vehlsage, before and during Alzheimer’s disease, as well as an outlet to express her frustrations and grief, and “alleviate some of the pain.”
The high school senior at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT, who will be entering Barnard College in New York City in the fall, noted: “If, through my writing, I can help bring increased consciousness to the plight of my grandmother and so many others, then I am honoring her in the best way I know how.”
For more information about AFA Teens and to read the winning scholarship essays, visit www.afateens.org.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line and Skype, educational materials, a free quarterly magazine for caregivers, and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.
Photos available upon request.
Contact: Carol Steinberg