The Alzheimer’s Association at CSUN has served the community for six years by providing information, referrals and support groups for those affected by the disease, which is a focus in November, which is National Alzheimer’s Disease Month, established by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
The association, located in room 201 of Monterey Hall, seeks to help people who suffer from the disease or family members of patients.
The disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory, ability to and make judgments, sometimes creating behavioral changes such as anxiety and depression.
The funding for the association comes from the government, private grants, donations and small contributions.
The office offers support groups through which people who have been recently diagnosed with the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s can learn to cope with the difficulties of having the disease. During the sessions of the group, a certified therapist works with patients and their families.
Jill Brink, Ph.D. and clinical manager at the association, has taught support groups at the center for four years.
Brink said she found her passion for working with the elderly in the second grade. She said she remembers how passionate she felt when the first local senior citizens’ center was opened in her hometown in Wisconsin. She said she always loved being around older people.
Having Alzheimer’s is not part of getting old, said Arturo Montenegro, office manager, who has worked with the organization since its beginnings. He said that education and awareness are two of the most important goals or missions of the institution. He said that there is a lot of work to do, especially within the Latino community, since it is almost implied that when “abuelita” (grandma) gets older you must drop everything and take care of her.
Mac Hunter, 71, attends memory loss support group sessions through the association. His 68-year-old wife, Betty, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and they have been part of the support group for seven months.
“I know now I was not alone,” Hunter said. He and his wife have now interacted with other people who had experienced the same challenges while dealing with the disease. Hunter said that accepting and learning that his wife had lost her memory made him also understand past experiences, because other relatives had the same disease.
Marie Mayen-Cho, regional director, said that 20 years ago as a student at Berkeley she became very interested in Alzheimer’s and the impact it had in people’s lives. Mayen-Cho provided respite care for a professor suffering from Alzheimer’s. She would take care of the professor while his wife ran errands. The professor’s Alzheimer’s was mild to severe.
“It was one of the best experiences in my life”, Mayen-Cho said. She said observing how much love and patience the professor’s wife had was a great learning experience. They both wrote a journal about the experience, she said. While in her junior year she lived with a 90-year-old woman she was healthy. She would take care of her and in return the woman would take care of her room and board.
“We would walk a mile a day, read the newspaper,” she said. “Because of her … I always wanted to work with the elderly and help them live a better life.”
Mayen-Cho then continued her education at Yale and graduated with a master’s in Public Health.
“This is my dream come true – working with the association and also raising awareness in the latino community,” Mayen-Cho said.
The association currently offers bilingual staff in the support group and care consultants. The biggest challenge Mayen-Cho has encountered is getting the word out. “I want everyone to know we are here to help,” she said.
In the future, Mayen-Cho would like extend the services to other ethnic groups in their native languages.
Ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation with time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things and changes in personality.