“What are the flowers for?” was a common question or thought for most students who happened to walk through the Fellows Garden on Friday afternoon. The yellow flower windmills were spread throughout the pathway between Gerstenzang and the Shapiro Campus Center to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. 

The flower windmills were just one of the several events of Alzheimer’s Awareness Week, hosted by the Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease club. SEAD is a new student-led club that is focused on spreading the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association—to end Alzheimer’s disease and to enhance care for those living with the disease. Alzheimer’s Awareness Week was SEAD’s first event and took place from April 13 to 17.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to memory loss, changes in thinking and altering other brain functions. Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease and the most common form of dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the only disease in the top ten causes of death that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.  

SEAD is the first college club to promote Alzheimer’s awareness and was chartered at Brandeis this semester by co-presidents Maryanne Cai ’16 and Arielle Keller ’16. 

“We’re actually starting the movement, and what we’re trying to do is get other colleges to start SEAD at their university or college,” Keller said in an interview with the Justice.

Keller, a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology, became interested in raising awareness on campus through her volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association and independent research on hearing, vision and attention. She began working in the Sekuler Lab in the fall of 2012 and is now a Computational Neuroscience Trainee. 

 “I was asking what we could do to get more involved as a school, like what I could do to help the Alzheimer’s association … There’s a problem where the younger population isn’t talking about Alzheimer’s enough. It’s mostly staying in the older population or not being talked about at all,” Keller said.  

SEAD is focused around three main goals: volunteering, outreach and research. In addition to the week of awareness, club members will also participate in two big volunteer and outreach events of SEAD, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in the fall and the Longest Day event happening during the summer. 

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is an event hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association in more than 600 communities nationwide. Participants form teams for the 3 mile walk and fundraise to raise awareness in their communities. The Longest Day event is also hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association and occurs on June 21. The Longest Day is the held on the longest day of the year, and teams are asked to come together to honor those facing Alzheimer’s by partaking in a day of being active from sunrise to sunset. SEAD has created a Brandeis team and encourages anybody to sign up for it. 

“We’re encouraging people to get outside, be active: you can go hiking or biking, whatever you want to do. Then you get a picture of you in your Longest Day t-shirt and post it on social media … so that way we’re all connected as a Brandeis community, even though we’re all in different places over the summer,” Keller explained.

SEAD’s Alzheimer’s awareness week began on Monday, April 13 with a Wake and Shake outside of Usdan and cupcake decorating at night. Cupcake and pinwheel decorating continued throughout the week while tabling in Usdan to encourage community members to donate to the Alzheimer’s Association. Other events included an awards ceremony on Tuesday night and a phone bank in Castle Commons on Wednesday night where club members called to thank Alzheimer’s Association donors for their support. 

The Alzheimer’s Research Award Ceremony on Tuesday night honored Brandeis’s own Prof. Angela Gutchess  (PSYC) for her groundbreaking research in the field. Dr. Gutchess received a New Investigator Research Grant from the Alzheimer’s Association for her project “Improving Memory in aMCI with Self-Referencing.” The grant funds from the Alzheimer’s Association will help support data collection of neuroimaging data collected through fMRI, as well as behavioral data from healthy older adults who will serve as a control.  Dr. Gutchess and her colleagues will be investigating how self-referencing can improve memory in patients with amnesic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). 

According to Dr. Gutchess, MCI is the first stage at which memory impairments are diagnosed in patients, and “it is thought to be due to the same pathology in the brain that ultimately leads to the progression to Alzheimer’s,” Gutchess explained in an email to the Justice. The results of the study may help identify a method for slowing the progression of the cognitive effects of Alzheimer’s disease in the future. 

Prof. Angela Gutchess has been researching Alzheimer’s in her Aging, Culture and Cognition Lab. Dr. Gutchess and her colleagues study how aging affects memory as well as different ways some people remember things more vividly than others. According to Dr. Gutchess, she first became involved with and interested in Alzheimer’s disease from a research perspective. Her lab found that relating information to yourself—a method called self-referencing—has helped adults form more vivid memories, and she became interested in whether they could extend the self-referencing method to those with memory impairments.

Dr. Gutchess heard about SEAD from Keller and has been excited to learn about the work they are doing around campus. In an email to the Justice, Dr. Gutchess explained, “I’m always surprised when undergraduates have an interest in aging, because it seems so far away from their present-day concerns. But SEAD has identified the importance of raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease from a social justice perspective, as well as a personal one.” 

Club member Nathan Schneider ’18 was inspired to join SEAD after volunteering for awareness week through a ‘this week in service” email. “I’m really in support of ending Alzheimer’s because my grandfather died of dementia. When I read about it, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to volunteer,” Schneider said in an interview with the Justice. 

The week of awareness came to a close in the Fellows Garden on Friday with yellow flower windmills, to educate people on how to get involved in the Alzheimer’s Association. The flower windmills are a common practice of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, in which each participant is given a color significant flower to represent their reason for walking. The flowers are accumulated into a Promise Garden, which was emulated by SEAD in the Fellows Garden. Ultimately, the week proved to a be a successful display of awareness and the first event hosted by and Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease club. 

“It’s going to be a long fight to find a cure for this, but I feel like it shows that Brandeis is concerned with doing hardcore research and trying to get to the root of the problems around the world,” Schneider explained.