Alzheimer’s Association International Conference

Ready to be inspired? Meet Anna, one of our youngest Alzheimer’s Advocates who recently attended the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen to present her Memory Box project:

Anna at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.
Anna at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

I am now a senior in high school, but a formative event in my life happened when I was only eight years old. This was the year that my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. A once caring, brilliant botanist and gardener and more importantly the one of the central role models of my life, she was robbed of her ability to take care of her extensive gardens, of her ability to function in social settings, and ultimately of her ability to care for and even to recognize her family. I watched my grandfather struggle with the progression of the disease for several summers, and I spent several weeks each year living at their house in Illinois to help my grandfather around the house and to stay with my grandmother as a way to give him a break from his full-time job as her primary caretaker.

As I grew older and entered high school, I felt that I was not doing enough to support the cause for Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment. As a result, during my junior year in high school I created an educational interdisciplinary model for lower- and middle-school students to expose them to current Alzheimer’s research as well as to educate them regarding the disease and how to spread awareness. The project included community service work by the students (we chose to work with seventh graders) at a local senior living home, studying and presenting research on an Alzheimer’s-related topic, the creation of shadow boxes filled with memorabilia to honor a special elderly loved one, potentially one who has suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia, and a culminating evening fundraising event to raise money for local Alzheimer’s research. Speakers at the event included Dr. Huntington Potter, a researcher at Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Jill Lorentz from the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and Catherine Ager, from Sunrise Senior Living. We named the project the “Memory Box Project.”

The project went smoothly and was extremely successful both as a fundraiser and as an experiential learning project for the students. I submitted an abstract of the Memory Box Project to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference website in the hopes that the judges would select my model for a presentation at the 2014 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. I didn’t expect to be selected to attend the conference, but I was interested in applying. Though my work was primarily in the social field rather than in the scientific field, I received notification from the AAIC abstract judges that my abstract was selected for a poster presentation at the conference. I was elated to hear this news, and began to plan my trip to Copenhagen right away. Before I left for the conference, I had to create a professionally printed poster that was around three feet tall and six feet wide, which encompassed my abstract and the process surrounding the Memory Box project. In early July I flew to Copenhagen in anticipation of my poster presentation, which took place on Tuesday, July 15th.

Thousands of researchers from around the world share their latest findings at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference.
Thousands of researchers from around the world share their latest findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

Copenhagen is a beautiful city, consisting of ancient buildings built on a system of canals that skirt the edges of the city. While I enjoyed sightseeing in Copenhagen, most of my time on the trip was devoted to attending the AAIC. I spent time attending lectures by some of the most notable researchers in the field of Alzheimer’s, and the conference was officially opened by one of the princesses of Denmark. Presenters and attendees of the conference were welcomed with an evening banquet and free rides at Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. On the day of my poster presentation, I arrived at the conference early to set up my gigantic poster. I was nervous about what people would think about my project, but as people started to trickle into the poster presentation area I became more confident. All of the people who approached my regarding my poster were curious, kind, and supportive. I made contacts with several other social activists in Australia, Germany, Denmark, Japan, and the US, all of whom were interested in either sponsoring my project as I work to reproduce it in other schools throughout Colorado, or, more excitingly, who were interested in recreating the project themselves in schools throughout the world. The AAIC was extremely worthwhile, exciting, and fun to attend each day that I spent in Denmark. I look forward to improving my Memory Box Project and to attending AAIC next year in Washington D.C. to make further contacts with people who have devoted their lives to eliminating Alzheimer’s disease.