The millennial generation raises its voice to fight Alzheimer's

April 22, 2013

On Monday, April 22, young advocates aged 18 to 35 gathered for a networking session during the 25th annual Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum. More than 40 attendees, mostly from the millennial generation, greeted familiar faces, made new acquaintances and discussed best practices for recruiting their peers in the fight against Alzheimer's disease.

John Funderburk, Alzheimer's Association director of advocacy, welcomed advocates by sharing a presentation filled with statistics and facts on the millennials.

"I hope you know that the millennial generation is bigger than the baby boomers," he said. "And these issues that we discuss the baby boomers facing, namely Alzheimer's — they will be your issues, too, unless we do something to change it."

Funderburk emphasized the size — and the power — behind this generation when they decide to support a cause.

"You are a generation that started Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You elected our president to two terms," he said. "You are an educated, influential, diverse generation. You are the present."

The session continued with an open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of being a young Alzheimer's advocate. Jeff Last, Alzheimer's associate director of federal affairs, gave attendees an insider perspective, sharing his experiences "on the other side" of Capitol Hill as a former policy advisor.

"Know your facts and figures," Last advised. "Share the statistics along with your story. Be confident in what you have to say."

He urged advocates not to be disappointed if they meet with staff representatives rather than elected officials.

"Every office works differently," he said. "Stick to your story. Meeting with a staff person is not necessarily bad. That person may be the one to hear your message."

Last was joined by Colman Elridge, vice president of the Young Democrats of America, executive assistant to Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear and a passionate Alzheimer's advocate. His grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when he was 11 years old.

"Being an advocate is about my grandmother. She was the first superhero I ever met," Elridge said. "She was born at the time when she didn't have the right to vote because she was African-American and a woman."

For Elridge, who lost his father at a young age, losing his grandmother to Alzheimer's disease was all the more painful.

"One day I walked into her room and she sat straight up and started crying. She said, 'They told me you were gone.' It hit me that she didn't see me, she saw my father. I thought, 'This woman has been to hell and back. If she needs me to be my father, I will be my father.' It wasn't easy, but it didn't make me anything other than a loyal grandson."

Elridge urged advocates to use the power of the millennial generation to bring about Alzheimer's policy change.

"As a generation, we get a bum rap. I often say we are a microwave generation — we're used to getting what we want. We're spoiled. If ever there was a moment that we could use being spoiled to our advantage, it's this issue. We tell our stories with the expectation that something will happen."

Attendees asked questions and exchanged anecdotes, many connecting over their concerns about not being taken seriously due their age.

Rebecca Kmett, an advocate from Iowa, shared her approach to this problem. "If I go into a meeting [with an elected official] and he or she says, 'Gosh, you're young,' I say, 'My grandparent developed the disease. If I'm unlucky, next it will be my parents. If I'm really, really unlucky, then it will be me. And if I am really, really, really unlucky, it could be my children, who are 3 and 5.'

"It's a good way to drive home a point. This is a disease that affects many generations."

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Alzheimer's Association Advocacy Forum 2014

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