Will Brossman is used to being the youngest person in the room when he volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Association, but the 22-year-old Boulder resident’s passion for helping people is not any less than those with more experience.
Since moving to Boulder this year, Brossman has quickly become one of the Boulder chapter’s most involved volunteers, motivated by his step-grandmother Nancy’s recent diagnosis.
“To see someone like Will step up is unusual,” said Boulder Regional Director Ralph Patrick. “We don’t see that happen very often because people associate it with an old person’s disease, and it doesn’t get the kind of attention that other diseases do, especially among young people. People think it’s just what happens when you get old.”
Brossman started by volunteering to help plan the 2019 Boulder Walk to End Alzheimer’s, then began training to become a community educator to teach classes on understanding the disease and warning signs.
Brossman is also training to staff the association’s free, 24/7 telephone helpline for people who have questions about Alzheimer’s and is working with volunteer Gordon Gibson to lead “Dementia Conversations” class.
The first encounter with Alzheimer’s for Brossman was marked by tragedy.
His step-grandfather died suddenly in an airport on the way home from a family vacation, and it quickly became clear that Brossman’s step-grandmother, Nancy, had serious problems with memory and cognition that her husband was taking care of by himself. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s soon after.
“It’s probably similar to receiving news that someone has a certain number of years left to live, except you don’t know how many and that makes it worse,” he said. “You can’t get a whole lot of information about what it will be like other than it’s about to be very challenging for the whole family.”
Brossman said he’s always volunteered and wanted to find a way to connect with his new town after moving to Colorado for work. With the Alzheimer’s Association, he’s found community and understanding from people going through similar situations.
Brossman’s involvement is encouraging to people who attend classes, Patrick said, and is a benefit to everyone who comes into contact with him.
“He’s jumped in with both feet,” Patrick said. “Aside from what young people bring to the table with their enthusiasm and knowledge, I think it helps change the perception of the disease, because it is kind of a stigmatized disease.”
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is as high as the third leading cause of death among older people, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I’d like people to know that there are hundreds of millions of people with this disease, but you don’t really hear about it,” Brossman said.