My grandmother asked me, “Rohin, ella vunnavu nana?” which simply means, “How are you, Rohin?” in my mother tongue, Telugu. This is a common enough question, except my name is not Rohin.
My name is Nihal Satyadev, and I am the CEO & Co-Founder of The Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s. We are an army of young people dedicated to helping caregivers for those with dementia. Ten years ago, my grandmother — once a prominent ophthalmologist, began to lose her memory. The roles of mother and children were reversed — as my family now had to feed her, bathe her, organize her medications, manage her finances, and be her constant companion.
My family is not alone. This is a story that many of you in this room know all too well. As advocates, you know that rates of Alzheimer’s will double in the next twelve years and that this will ultimately bankrupt our healthcare system.
This evening, I will share the story of a nascent movement which led to an idea that is fundamentally redefining how our country addresses dementia.
When my friends and I started this organization four years ago, student leaders from across the country reached out to start their own chapters and today we have over five hundred students actively involved in over fifteen chapters that are spreading Alzheimer’s awareness to their peers. This past October, we gathered the largest ever delegation of student Alzheimer’s advocates to DC to let our nation’s leaders know that funding for a cure is not a senior issue, it's a national priority.
But students don’t just advocate, they also provide respite care. At UCLA and the University of Southern California, trained college student volunteers and older adults with early-stage dementia are partnered in a community-based setting. For three hours, twice a week, they play games, participate in artistic activities, and engage in cognitive exercises. Three-fourths of caregivers found this program alone, to be all the break that they needed. In the past three years, we’ve partnered nearly 200 students with older adults, provided over five thousand hours of respite care, and created countless, lasting intergenerational friendships.
At this moment, I paused. There clearly existed a powerful desire amongst youth to provide care, and I wondered how my peer’s passion could be most effectively structured and scaled. Months later, the California Care Corps was born. This year, we’ve found a legislative champion in Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes and will be rallying Californians to implement this idea. In this model, high school graduates will spend a year providing near full time respite care in return for a monthly stipend, a scholarship for future education, and a compassion for our elders that lasts a lifetime. We envision this model serving low and middle income families that are right above the line for Medicaid. Today, there are millions of family caregivers that are leaving the workforce and sinking into poverty to qualify for long-term care. Tomorrow, these family caregivers can welcome a Corps member into their home and return to pursuing their own career ambitions.
Access to respite care means happier family caregivers and happier family caregivers mean their loved ones can be kept at home longer, delaying their entry into elder care institutions. If our respite care models reach 1% of Americans with dementia and allow them to age at home for just two more months, we will save the healthcare system one billion dollars.
American youth have a rich tradition in meeting the country’s needs with service. In the 1930s, an economically broken America found the most popular New Deal program in the Civilian Conservation Corps - an effort that led to the complete revitalization of our national parks. In 1961, when thousands of youth wrote to Congress, eager to assist in the establishment of freedom in the developing world, the Peace Corps was created. In 1989, the growing educational divide in low-income neighborhoods was met with Teach for America. And in 2019, the Care Corps will be established in California.
But one state is not enough. We will not stop there. We won’t stop until every state in our union has its own Care Corps.
Our need to solve our exorbitant healthcare costs and lacking aging sector workforce is more urgent than ever. I believe, our country will rise again to match our need with service. I believe that Alzheimer's is no match for a nation of empowered youth. I believe that it's time for America to Care.