WHITE PLAINS – Eva Roszkowski was only 24 in 2010 when her father, Henry Roszkowski, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 56.
“I barely knew how to spell the name of the disease, let alone what to expect,” she said.
Feeling isolated because her friends didn’t understand what she was experiencing, she reached out to the Alzheimer’s Association New York City Chapter, where she received a variety of helpful information, including a referral to a support group for caregivers under 30.
“If it weren’t for the networking opportunities that I gained through this support group, the trajectory of my father’s care would have been completely different,” Eva Roszkowski said.
While some may consider Alzheimer’s to be more of an older person’s concern, many young adults are deeply affected by it. One in six millennials serve as caregivers to someone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Of these, forty-four percent are providing care to a grandparent and 26 percent are caring for a parent. November is National Family Caregiver Month, when the Alzheimer’s Association puts the spotlight on the challenges dementia caregivers face, as well as the services available to help families cope.
Following his diagnosis, Eva Roszkowski’s father had to retire, and eventually he and her mother, Wanda Roszkowski, moved in with her sister in New Jersey. All of them took part in caring for Henry Roszkowski.
“There were a multitude of personality changes for which I was not prepared,” Eva Roszkowski recalled. “For example, my dad’s vocabulary changed; his temperament changed. He became unable to manage finances. He was more confused and reticent when it came to expressing himself. He was never the most social person, but he became even more withdrawn,” she said.
Dealing with these changes was hard for the family – and especially hard for someone just starting to chart her career path. Eva found herself focusing on her family’s needs instead. Ultimately, her father’s Alzheimer’s advanced beyond the point where he could be cared for at home, and he has lived in a nursing facility for the past four years.
Eva said she found a safe place at the support group. While her colleagues were all dealing with different relatives experiencing different symptoms, they shared a mutual understanding and respect. She noted that because of the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s disease, it can be hard for friends and colleagues to feel comfortable discussing the disease or to know how to support caregivers. This is why a support group can be such a crucial lifeline for caregivers.
Eventually, Eva’s professional aspirations and personal experience came together in a career opportunity with the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter. In September, she began working out of the Purchase office as a community engagement manager focused on community outreach and education in Westchester.
“This is the perfect role for me, as I have always been passionate about educating the public about resources available to them,” she said. “I love being part of the Association, because when I do programs and speak to groups, I speak from the heart.”
Part of her work includes outreach to underserved populations, including the Latino and African-American communities. She said diversity and inclusion are an important part of the Alzheimer’s Association’s initiatives, and as a member of an immigrant family herself, originally from Poland, Eva feels a connection with those who may face language or cultural barriers.
Her latest project is a group for young professionals, much like the support group she joined when she first encountered the organization. The Young Professionals Alzheimer’s Council (YPAC) is an auxiliary board of the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter is open to those with a personal connection, as well as those who have no connection but would like to learn more and get involved with the cause. The group’s kickoff is set for Thursday, Nov. 29, at Hudson Grille in White Plains. Eva encourages individuals between the ages of 21-35 who care about the cause to attend.
“I can only hope that those who get involved are as excited as I am about the endless possibilities and impact we can have,” she said. “YPAC is a group that can socialize, become educated about the disease and serve as community educators. All this can happen while the group is creating connections and having fun. It won’t solely be about happy hours and networking.”
If you go
What: Young Professionals Alzheimer’s Council Kickoff
When: 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov.29
Where: Hudson Grille, 165 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains
Contact: Eva Roszkowski at email@example.com or 914.253.6872
About the Hudson Valley Chapter
The Hudson Valley Chapter serves families living with dementia in seven counties in New York including, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester. To learn more about our programs and services offered locally, visit alz.org/hudsonvalley
About the Alzheimer’s Association
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Its mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Its vision is a world without Alzheimer’s.