Joe Webb and Hannah Chute, founders of Iowa State Alzheimer’s-related clubs, educate others about Alzheimer’s disease research and caregiver support. Photo by Ryan Riley.
Joe Webb and Hannah Chute, founders of Iowa State Alzheimer’s-related clubs, educate others about Alzheimer’s disease research and caregiver support. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Human Sciences students form campus clubs to increase Alzheimer’s disease awareness

Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. However, students within the College of Human Sciences are working to bring healing and hope to persons affected by Alzheimer’s, and to raise awareness for battling the disease.

“Having clubs on campus is a great way for our students to educate others about the disease,” said Heather Kruger, an academic adviser in the School of Education who serves as the faculty adviser for Iowa State’s chapter of AFA (Alzheimer’s Foundation of America) On Campus. “It is unbelievable how many students are affected by the disease. Our hope is to continue to educate and raise funds to help researchers find a cure.”

That education is reaching to Iowa State’s campus, to the Iowa statehouse and the U.S. Capitol, and overseas — thanks to two new Iowa State clubs started by College of Human Sciences students.

A personal stake
Hannah Chute, founder and president of Iowa State’s AFA On Campus chapter, first became interested in Alzheimer’s when her grandfather was diagnosed with an early onset of the disease.

“I watched how the disease affected him and my entire family — it was devastating,” said Chute, a junior in elementary education. “He passed away a few years ago and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research.”

Joe Webb, co-president of Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association at Iowa State and a graduate research assistant in food science and human nutrition, shares a similar story. When he was 10, his grandfather passed away from the disease. He said that he’s met countless others on campus who have been personally affected by Alzheimer’s.

“On our club recruitment form, I asked people why they wanted to be involved in our organization. The majority of them said they had a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, or they’ve had a close connection with the disease,” Webb said. “I really feel that Alzheimer’s disease not only impacts the person with the disease, but also the person’s family and community.”

Raising a voice
Both Chute and Webb have become strong advocates for furthering awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and its effects, both on and off campus. While their separate clubs have varying focal points along the research and education spectrum, their mission is the same — help those affected by the disease.

Earlier this month, Webb visited the Iowa General Assembly for Iowa Day at the Hill, where he shared his story with state legislators. Next week, he’ll travel to the U.S. Capitol to meet with members of Congress. The event coincides with the Alzheimer’s Association’s Advocacy Forum 2017, an event expected to draw more than 1,000 to Washington, D.C. to educate attendees and the general public about Alzheimer’s disease research, care, and support services.

“I’m very excited to learn more about what it’s like to advocate and campaign on Capitol Hill,” Webb said. “I’ll learn what I can do as a scientist to continue to make sure that we are speaking up for the people whose voices aren’t being heard.”

Then from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 19, Chute and her fellow club members will host the Raise Your Voice For Care event in the Memorial Union Great Hall on Iowa State’s campus. The event will include a full day of free seminars and activities geared toward raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A concert will immediately follow the event.

“AFA has chosen our club to host the annual event,” Kruger said. “One club is chosen each year, so it is exciting we were chosen during our first year as a club. The event has provided great leadership opportunities for our students. They are involved in planning, advertising, and implementing the event.”

Research paired with engagement
In addition to their Alzheimer’s awareness efforts, students such as Webb are also involved in cutting-edge Alzheimer’s disease research, working alongside Auriel Willette, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition. Willette also advises the Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association Club and has shared his research at AFA On Campus club meetings.

“Actions we take right now on a day-to-day basis, whether or not we see the long-term outcome, have a long-term effect on our brain,” Webb said. “In our lab, we seek to understand how metabolism or diseases like diabetes or obesity lead to detrimental changes in the brain.”

For Chute, this research provides hope.

“An important part of providing hope is to keep up with current research and news surrounding Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “Knowing about the advancements being made toward a cure for Alzheimer’s allows us to remain hopeful.”

Willette said that student engagement in club activities directly supports his research efforts in the lab.

“The Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association group is a critical partnership between a national, nonprofit organization and enthusiastic, engaged students who provide boots on the ground for community engagement, fundraising, and research,” Willette said. “Students are able to take leadership roles through formal or informal extension and outreach efforts — several also directly submit research abstracts for consideration to attend the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, to broadcast ISU’s work to the world.”

Webb will travel to the conference in England this summer to share his research. A previous conference in Canada first connected him with the Alzheimer’s Association. That conversation led him to Noah Jackson, a senior finance major who serves as co-president of Advocates for the Alzheimer’s Association with Webb.

“To start a club, you need to have a passion and a drive,” Jackson said. “If something is your passion, get involved with it. Use the resources Iowa State has — don’t try to do it yourself.”

Webb agrees that collaboration is paramount to the success of his cause.

“As college students, we have an important role to make sure that we can make our voice heard and advocate for issues that affect families,” Webb said. “We can also use the opportunities we have here to spread the information and let people know about actions they can take to help support those with Alzheimer’s disease.”

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CONTACTS:

Hannah Chute, junior in elementary education, Iowa State University, hrchute@iastate.edu

Joe Webb, graduate research assistant, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, 515-294-3011, jlwebb@iastate.edu

Heather Kruger, academic adviser, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-5153, hrkruger@iastate.edu

Auriel Willette, assistant professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University, 515-294-3110, awillett@iastate.edu

Kent Davis, communications specialist, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-1326, davisk@iastate.edu

  • Raise Your Voice for Care

    Iowa State's AFA On Campus chapter will host the Raise Your Voice For Care event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 19 at Iowa State's Memorial Union Great Hall. The event will include a full day of free seminars and activities geared toward raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A concert will immediately follow the event.

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