According to group members of the Alzheimer's Association Early Stage Social Club, at first glance you might notice Elaine Czech for her vibrant hair color, bright smile and large headphones. But after getting to know her, what really stands out is her heart.
Czech began volunteering for the Alzheimer's Association in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning. She had just completed her graduate studies program that focused on ways to enrich social interactions in nursing homes, and Czech wanted to continue to use her expertise to better the lives of those living with varied cognitive abilities. The Alzheimer's Association seemed like the perfect fit.
She became involved in the Early Stage Social Club, a group that gathers virtually to chat and in which, according to Czech, "the participant just has to click that link and be themselves."
Her supervisor Kayla Jakel says, "Over this past year, Elaine has gotten to know the participants very well. She is a phenomenal volunteer and the Association is lucky to have her. She has facilitated almost every weekly social club since March 2020."
Czech also recently helped launch a new program called Nature's Calling, a monthly group that meets to discuss the benefits of nature and to spark exploration.
Czech points out that experiencing dementia is different for everyone.
"Both of my mom’s parents were diagnosed with dementia. It was interesting because their journeys with the disease were very different. My grandfather took a route of quiet acceptance and withdrawal while my grandmother went through the whole emotional rollercoaster."
However, Czech believes that at the core of the human experience is a need for connection, and that we could all benefit from making our social interactions more inclusive.
"We all have limitations. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I at times face similar sensory issues as those living with dementia. I think recognizing many of the societal changes necessary for creating dementia-inclusive spaces would benefit others like myself as well."
Czech’s commitment to those with dementia doesn't end after she signs out of a social club meeting. In fact, her volunteering has inspired her to pursue a Ph.D. geared toward the development of dementia-inclusive community programming.
The Alzheimer's Association leads the way to end Alzheimer's and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's and all other dementia.™ For more information, visit www.alz.org or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.