Last Day at the Alzheimer’s Association

Flowers at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Today is my last day at the Alzheimer’s Association. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and I feel that I’ve learned a lot, both about non-profits and about Alzheimer’s work. As a final reflection, here are a few of the biggest things I’ve learned:

  1. How to gain entry into and the trust of a population in outreach.

In order to gain access to and the trust of a population, there is often one key person acting as a “gatekeeper.” In this case, it was my boss. All of the contacts I made for interviews for my thesis were through her, as she is an established figure in the Hispanic/Latino community in Boston. She has made the effort to reach out and establish trusting relationships with different churches, organizations, and individuals throughout the community. What I learned from this is that outreach, education, and fundraising work best when individual, meaningful relationships are formed.

2. The impact of my thesis interviews was not just for me.

When I was out in the field, interviewing and talking to people, they always seemed very appreciative that a young person was interested in Alzheimer’s disease. When planning my thesis and designing my interviews., I had mainly thought about the impact the interviews would have on my project, but they also seemed to have a positive impact on my interviewees. They were happy to know that young people were invested in them, and they had a chance to tell their stories. It’s easy to forget that we shouldn’t just offer up information, but also let people respond and create a dialogue; the most effective care is usually a result of good communication between the care provider and patient.

Some more information about the Memory Café, one of the programs that I have worked with.

3. Seemingly insignificant tasks can have a big impact.

During my time here at the Alzheimer’s Association, I did a lot of “typical” intern jobs – copying, making packets, organizing drawers. One day, I spent a couple of hours organizing my boss’s file folders for her. Although it wasn’t too difficult and didn’t seem like a big job to me, she really appreciated it and it ended up streamlining her process when organizing for health fairs. I think it is easy for interns to get frustrated with this type of job, but it is important to remember that these little things that we do allow others to more easily complete bigger and more crucial tasks.

I am sad to leave the organization today, but luckily it is just a 10 minute drive from Brandeis, so I will hopefully be back to volunteer a couple of times during the semester!

Also, a quick reminder to sign up for your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s! The link is to the Greater Boston walk. Brandeis SEAD will have a team for the Greater Boston Walk on September 25th, so look out for that on campus!

Sign up for your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s!

Leah Levine ’17


What does outreach really mean?

Outreach materials in Spanish
Outreach materials in Spanish

I have been working at the Alzheimer’s Association for a couple of months now, and I have learned that work comes in waves. Some days, I am stuffing packets and calling churches from the second I get there to the second I leave, and other days, there is a lull in the office. As I mentioned in my first post, I am working at the Watertown office, which is the headquarters for all operations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This means that although the office is huge, it can feel really empty when people are out and about all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

A huge part of what I am doing this summer is outreach. During the past couple of months, I have really gotten a feel for what that word really means. In my case, working with the Hispanic/Latino population in the Boston area, it means calling churches to send informational packets and set up education programs, training volunteers in the community to educate their congregations about Alzheimer’s disease, and generally getting the word out about all of the resources offered by the Association.

I think the most valuable thing I have learned so far about outreach though, is that information alone is not enough; it really has to be put in cultural context. Most of the people I’ve been working with are either immigrants to the United States, or children of immigrants from Latin American countries. The way that they experience and understand disease can be different from my own. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, many Latin American countries have considered the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s (such as memory loss and confusion) to be a normal part of aging, and the medicalization of Alzheimer’s is just beginning to reach some parts of the world.

So we can’t just go into communities and say “hey, there’s something wrong with you!” which could incite fear and mistrust. There is already a pretty widespread aversion among the Latino/Hispanic community to drugs and other resources related to Alzheimer’s disease; which is understandable considering some people don’t even believe that AD is real. This is why cultural competency is so important in medicine. There are small steps that can be taken in terms of outreach to mediate this transition and make the process of diagnosis and treatment of symptoms much less stressful for everyone. These steps include things such as involving family members in decision-making, having professional translators trained in more than one dialect, and focusing outreach efforts on researching different customs and practices. Most importantly, we can find out what people want by actually asking them.

At this mid-way point in my internship, I think the most important lesson I have learned is this: outreach means more than just sitting at a table handing out packets – it means tailoring discussions to the communities you’re working with and learning from within the community; after all, they know their needs. I’m looking forward to continuing with this work and also continuing research for my upcoming thesis.

Leah Levine ’17