Will Brossman didn’t set out to be an Alzheimer’s volunteer and advocate. It caught the Texas native by surprise, but after seeing the disease affect his family, he’s decided to meet the challenge head-on in his newly adopted home of Boulder, Colorado.
“It came as a shock to us,” said the 22-year-old Brossman as he talked about his abrupt introduction to Alzheimer’s. While returning home from a family vacation to Hawaii, his grandmother’s husband suddenly died. The care Will’s step-grandfather had provided for his wife had helped mask her dementia symptoms. Soon after her husband’s death, Will’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
A recent graduate of the University Alabama, Brossman already had planned to relocate to Boulder to be close to his girlfriend as she completes a graduate degree at University of Colorado. After arriving in Colorado and beginning his career in financial advising, Brossman didn’t waste time getting engaged in his new volunteer passion.
His first step was to volunteer for the planning committee for the 2019 Boulder Walk to End Alzheimer’s, where he met Catie Davis, development manager for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Boulder office.
“Will jumped right in,” said Davis. “To see a young professional joining the volunteer committee brings a level of excitement with it. It’s not an age group we see a lot of. He brings new energy and a different perspective to things.”
Soon after that, Brossman met Ralph Patrick, regional director of the Boulder office, and the stage was set for a deeper level of involvement.
“Will is incredibly mature and passionate,” said Patrick. “He brings a lot of energy along with his unique point of view. While Will’s age (as an Alzheimer’s education instructor) might be a surprise to some people who attend classes, he’s incredibly capable and willing to learn. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in his ability to engage well with people. He brings a lot to the table, and I’m thrilled to have him as a volunteer.”
In addition to working on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s planning committee, in his first few months of volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association Brossman is learning how to be a community educator to teach classes like “Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia” and “The 10 Warning Signs.” He’s also in training to serve as a volunteer for the Association’s free 24/7 Helpline to be a resource for people in the community who have questions about the disease.
And, in perhaps his most interesting role, he’s teamed up with another Alzheimer’s Association volunteer community educator, Gordon Gibson, to lead a “Dementia Conversations” class. Gibson, a retired teacher, is living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). People with MCI experience a measurable decline in memory and thinking skills, and are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
“I want to be involved with the Alzheimer’s Association, and there’s so much I can learn from Gordy Gibson,” Brossman said. “This is very personal for me, and I like helping. I’ve told Ralph: ‘throw me in the fire. I’m ready.’”
The involvement of young adults in the Alzheimer’s cause is important because the disease has an impact on many more people than those diagnosed with it and their spouses.
A growing number of young Alzheimer’s caregivers
An estimated 5% of the U.S. population currently is serving as unpaid caregivers for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Among Millennials (ages 23 to 38 in 2019), an estimated one in six is providing care for someone living with dementia. Nearly half (42%) report that they are the sole caregivers for their loved one. Key areas of care provided include help with transportation, grocery and other shopping, help communicating with healthcare professionals, housework, monitoring the health of their loved one, meal preparation and help managing finances.
“We think of this as an old person’s disease, but there are a lot of young people who are affected because they’re caring for parents or grandparents,” said Patrick. “Looking at the projection of nearly 14 million people in the U.S. alone living with Alzheimer’s by 2050, we are going to need to have everyone involved until we can find a cure.”