NEW YORK, Aug. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Recognizing that an increasing number of college students may be facing Alzheimer's disease in their own families or are looking to get involved in a worthy cause, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) has unveiled a unique network for college students—AFA on Campus.
The new division caters exclusively to students at colleges and universities across the country in an effort to educate them about Alzheimer's disease, provide support services for them and their families, and groom tomorrow's leaders in the Alzheimer's community. The division will enable college-age peers to share experiences related to Alzheimer's disease as well as engage in meaningful volunteer opportunities.
AFA is also encouraging students to set up local AFA on Campus chapters, through their colleges and universities, sororities and fraternities, or other community organizations. As well, they can read and contribute blog posts, take a quiz and participate in contests online. The division has its own microsite, http://www.afateens.org/afa_on_campus.html.
AFA on Campus builds on the momentum of AFA Teens, AFA's pioneering and award-winning division for teens that includes a dedicated Web site, education, support and chapters specifically for youngsters coping with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.
AFA Teens has proven especially beneficial to teens whose loved ones have or had Alzheimer's disease, a brain disorder that currently affects as many as 5.1 million Americans. With advanced age the greatest known risk factor, which causes loss of memory and other intellectual functions, the incidence of the disease is skyrocketing in line with the nation's aging population.
With AFA on Campus, AFA stands ready to continue to assist teens, including those previously active in the cause, as they move on to college.
"A resource like AFA on Campus is extremely important since many students who go away to college leave behind a support network that carried them through difficult situations. We want them to know they should not have to face Alzheimer's disease alone," said Eric J. Hall, AFA's president and CEO.
In addition, Hall said, "By creating powerful networks of peer and professional support across college campuses, we also hope to both grow the next generation of Alzheimer's activists and interest students in healthcare careers."
Elizabeth Owens of North Wales, PA has organized AFA's first official chapter of AFA on Campus, which will meet at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC beginning this fall. Motivated to get involved after losing her grandfather to Alzheimer's disease, she applied to sit on the AFA on Campus Advisory Board and now serves on the initial board.
"I wanted to give back and help others cope with the consequences of the disease after seeing the toll it took in my family," the sophomore said. "Since Alzheimer's disease is so close to my heart, I was happy to have the opportunity to begin an organization that will give college students the chance to work with both those suffering from Alzheimer's and lend support to those whose family members have the disease."
College-age students are among the nation's 42 million adults aged 18 and older who are caring for adults with limitations in daily activities, including people with Alzheimer's disease, according to a recent AARP survey. Results of an AFA survey of "sandwich caregivers"—the parents or guardians of children under 21 who also care for an aging parent, other relative or friend with Alzheimer's disease—found that 59 percent of young adults aged 18 to 21 are very involved or somewhat involved in caring for the person with Alzheimer's disease. Among them, about one-third assist with doctors' appointments and about two-thirds entertain their loved ones.
So that college students can seamlessly start AFA on Campus chapters, AFA provides a sample constitution on its Web site, in addition to suggestions on how to carry out awareness-raising and fundraising activities.
Members of the division's student advisory board will help guide the growth of AFA on Campus, including setting up their own chapters at their affiliated schools. In addition to Owens, the other founding members are: Breanna Bishop of Detroit, a sophomore at Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; Andrew Hsu of Fremont, CA, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, CA; Natalie Innocenzi of Arcadia, CA, a sophomore at the University of Redlands, Redlands, CA; and Megan Parsons of Fowler, MI, a freshman at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Hsu, Innocenzi and Parsons previously served on the AFA Teens Advisory Board.
Several of these volunteers have witnessed Alzheimer's disease in their own families. For Innocenzi, her grandmother's daily struggle with the disease has inspired her to raise awareness among her peers and the community.
"My grandmother was and still is my role model," said the communicative disorders major.
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 and referrals by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line, e-mail, Skype, and live chat; 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.
SOURCE Alzheimer's Foundation of America