Nihal Satyadev wants you to understand how this disease affects us all — and how we can make a difference.
Age is no barrier to starting your own world-changing movement. Just ask Nihal Satyadev.
Nihal is the CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s. The organization has been around just over three years. But in that short time, they’ve sponsored legislation, spread the word that Alzheimer’s is a young person’s issue, too, and enlisted high school and college students in the fight against the disease.
That’s impressive enough in itself, but now consider that Nihal — an L.A. resident who’s working on his master’s in public health — is just 24 years old.
The Growing Crisis
So how did a young person become such a powerful advocate in the fight against a disease that’s associated with older people? For Nihal, it all started when his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — a disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells and damages memory, thinking and language skills — and his family cared for her.
As he learned more about the disease, he began to see that it was a major — and growing — health crisis.
“I realized that more people in my generation needed to be aware of this issue and be actively working toward finding solutions,” he says.
According to the Youth Movement website, Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 5.5 million people are living with the disease, and that number is expected to grow to 16 million by 2050.
The total annual cost of care for people with Alzheimer’s is $228 billion. That’s a huge strain on our healthcare system. And by 2050, that figure could hit $1.1 trillion.
But the impact of the disease spreads even further. Of the 3 million family caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s, 40 percent are diagnosed with depression. As the number of people with Alzheimer’s grows, the mental health crisis among caregivers will also grow. Caregivers may also end up leaving the workforce due to their responsibilities and have trouble resuming their careers later.
So much for the idea that Alzheimer’s doesn’t affect younger people, right?
Solutions That Serve All
But Nihal isn’t just good at reframing the way we see Alzheimer’s. He also knows how to channel the energy of his socially conscious generation into productive activism. In California, where Nihal is based, his organization is sponsoring legislation that would create a program he describes as “the AmeriCorps for caregiving.” The goal is to ease the stress on caregivers and make it easier for them to re-enter the workforce.
Nihal’s organization has also launched a partnership called YouthCare with the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Through YouthCare, students work for three hours twice a week in a community setting with older adults who have early-stage dementia.
The program holds enormous potential for everyone involved, Nihal says. Students gain highly marketable respite care skills. The caregivers of the dementia patients in the program said the break YouthCare provides makes a big difference in their stress levels. Dementia patients receive companionship and are more likely to be able to age in place rather than entering a care facility. And all of this also benefits our healthcare system as a whole.
Ready to be a #MovementMaker like Nihal? No matter how old you are, don’t wait. “You’ve got to put yourself out there,” Nihal says. You won’t have everything figured out right away, and you’ll hit a few roadblocks. For example, Nihal’s early attempt to stage an event fizzled out. But he just kept learning and trying again.
Whatever your cause is, you need mentors, Nihal says. If you don’t know anyone with the expertise to guide you, be bold and reach out to people you don’t know — even if that means contacting a couple hundred people just to get a few responses.
If you’re as excited about Nihal and the Youth Movement as I am, here are the ways he most needs your help. If you’re in high school or college, launch your own Youth Movement chapter. The organization’s startup kit makes it easy. If you’re out of school, tell the young people in your life how they can start a chapter. You can also help spread Nihal’s message that Alzheimer’s affects all of us, but that together we can make changes that protect our future.
PS. Want to know how I met Nihal? We are both graduates of the StartingBloc Fellowship, which boasts of training 3,000 social impact leaders in 56 countries. StartingBloc is accepting applications now so if you’re on the fence, I say just do it. Come on, #Firestarter it’ll help you reach your full potential.
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