At our core, memory defines the very essence of who we are.
As a college student, I have seen how my peers and many adults do not always give much thought to the role that a strong functioning memory plays in all our lives. Our relationships, work, hobbies, personalities, and activities of daily life (e.g., eating, bathing) all require us to learn, remember, and recall information.
But what happens when we can no longer remember?
During my four years at Texas A&M University, I’ve learned that most college students (myself included at one point) think about Alzheimer’s disease as “grandma’s or grandpa’s disease,” and certainly not as something that will happen to me. With constant scientific advances in medicine, some people are optimistic that we are on the verge of finding a cure or a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Yet, despite some remarkable scientific advances in the Alzheimer’s arena that have helped us understand the disease and its effects on the brain, we still have no cure.
As an undergraduate Alzheimer’s researcher in the lab of Dr. Steve Balsis at Texas A&M University and as the regional outreach intern for the Houston and Southeast Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, I’ve learned a lot about Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve also learned several lessons, the most important being the following:
Alzheimer’s is our generation’s fight.
It’s up to the newest generation of researchers, doctors, business men and women, and really every one of us to maintain the progress that has been made by the men and women who have pioneered this field.
As an aspiring scientist, I think it’s an easy pitfall for myself and others to believe that the only way to fight Alzheimer’s is in the laboratory. At Texas A&M, I’ve learned another important lesson from many close friends whose lives, like mine, have been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease:
There is a job to do for anyone and everyone who wants to end Alzheimer’s disease.
In the spring of 2016, Emeri Bradford, a good friend who first introduced me to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Association, approached me and several other friends with a novel idea. As a passionate and selfless student leader, Emeri wanted to create a Texas A&M student organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease awareness and fundraising. Over the course of a few short months, Texas Aggies Fighting Alzheimer’s (TAFA) was born, and our numbers multiplied from our six-person officer team to over thirty members in our first semester of existence.
TAFA includes students from many different backgrounds who understand that it’s on us to bring an end to Alzheimer’s disease. Our members are studying to be accountants, engineers, non-profit professionals, scientists, and doctors. Each person’s story and connection to Alzheimer’s, from being a personal caregiver to simply wanting to see an end to the disease, is different, and their skills are unique. We have members who are Alzheimer’s Association-trained speakers and others who enjoy fundraising and event planning. Others enjoy volunteering at assisted living facilities, working directly with people who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Every day, the members of TAFA, as well as my colleagues and volunteers at the Alzheimer’s Association, inspire me. United, our passion and work honors the lives of those who can no longer remember. As I prepare to conclude my time at Texas A&M and begin a career in Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease research, I am optimistic that this generation will advance our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and will find the first Alzheimer’s survivor.
We have faced failure before. Yet, we persevere. We learn. We educate. We advocate. We remember. We love.
About the Author
Josh Fuller is the past Regional Outreach Intern at the Alzheimer’s Association Brazos Valley Area. He is a recent graduate of Texas A&M University.
Josh is an incoming doctoral student of Clinical Psychology at Boston University. While in Boston, he will conduct research alongside investigators at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital on a study of autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s disease in Antioquia, Colombia.