Care Camp

By Jeanne Kessler

Teens are busy.  Whether it’s soccer practice, piano lessons or a scout meeting, teens are on the go.  So when I developed a program known as Care Camp, a four-hour workshop specifically designed for teens to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and spend some time visiting Alzheimer’s residents, the response was small.

Perhaps the lack of participation was due to the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with aging rather than youth.  Knowing however, that 10 percent of our population over the age of 65 is afflicted with this disease, I figured there must be some teens out there with grandparents or great grandparents who were affected.  The few teens who did respond to an invitation from the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Dallas Chapter, to attend Care Camp last Fall, all had relatives with the disease.  The teens seemed to appreciate learning more about Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the opportunity to connect with other youth who were going through similar circumstances.  I have since started a support group for these teens and we meet once a month for a fun activity, and just take time to share.

I still, however, continued to struggle with the issue of wanting to involve more teens in this learning experience.  I realized that the teens were not the only ones to benefit from their interaction with people who have Alzheimer’s disease.  It seemed that the residents within the nursing home setting who participated in the intergenerational activities had a positive experience as well.  Activities such as a ball toss or a craft project were enhanced by the presence of young people.  The youth could chase the ball when it went out of bounds.  If a resident couldn’t actually do the craft project, she didn’t seem to mind watching the youngster color or paint and give advice as to which colors to choose.  A young person visiting someone with Alzheimer’s disease can trigger fond memories of a time in that person’s life when he or she had young children to interact with and to care for.

Having two young teens of my own with busy schedules, I realized that one way to engage teens was to meet them through an activity in which they were already involved.  Thus, the idea of an Alzheimer’s Awareness Patch to be earned by Girl Scouts was developed.

In keeping with several of the Girl Scout Laws such as, “I will do my best to help where I am needed, to show respect for myself and others through my words and actions, and to be cheerful,” Girls Scout troops sign up to attend the workshop and come prepared for a day of learning and service.  The workshop, held in a local Alzheimer’s Care facility, covers all the requirements necessary for each participant to earn an Alzheimer’s Awareness Badge, which has been approved by the Texas Girl Scout Council.  Following a session on learning about Alzheimer’s disease, the girls participate in activities with a group of residents who have Alzheimer’s disease.  Activities range from a sing-a-long, to an art project, to a visit from a pet that is trained in Animal Assisted Therapy.  One important principle of the workshop is to convey to the teen learners the message that Alzheimer’s disease is not a part of normal aging.  Though this disease is one that primarily affects older adults, it is not necessarily true that all or even most older adults will get Alzheimer’s disease.  However, because of the continuous growth of our aging population, the number of people affected by this disease will continue to increase during the next century. 

The girls leave the workshop with a packet of information from the Alzheimer’s Association, regarding Alzheimer’s disease and ways the Association can help people and families who are affected.

The message of the success of this program is clear—while many teens are busy, some are not too busy to spend time learning something new and to give of themselves to people who truly benefit from their oath of action to “help where needed, show respect for others and be cheerful.” 

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