Max Wallack reminds us of the importance one person can make in the world. Max started making a difference at an early age, and now he has dedicated his life to Alzheimer’s. Learn more about Max and his many achievements, and find out how you can win a copy of Max’s book in this exclusive interview.
Max Wallack is truly an inspiration. Max developed a passion for Alzheimer’s after his great-grandmother was diagnosed with the disease. By the age of 10, Max became a caregiver to his “Great Grams” who suffered from both the paranoia and hostility symptoms of the disease; an eye-opening experience for one so young. Max is now 17, and he’s using this experience and young-insight to help other children understand the disease. Max recently published a children’s book, “Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator?”
Helping children understand Alzheimer’s is never easy. We believe in Max’s philanthropic work, and we want to help him reach other children so they can understand this disease. We’re giving away three copies of Max’s book, so read on to find out how you can enter the giveaway.
Q: What caused you to focus your charitable efforts towards Alzheimer’s disease?
Max: I grew up as a caregiver to my great grandmother who lived with my family and had Alzheimer’s disease. I saw firsthand how devastating this disease can be to the patients and their caregivers.
Q: Your great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s; aside from her, who has had the greatest influence on the young adult you’ve become?
Max: When I was five years old, I became a Davidson Young Scholar. This was an organization founded by Jan and Bob Davidson, the producers of Math Blasters, the first educational software. They sold that company, becoming billionaires, and founded an organization to help gifted kids. They said they believe that supporting those kids are important because those kids would have a good chance of doing things to benefit society. I was invited to visit them at Lake Tahoe. I remember Jan telling me that she believes that anyone who has the ability to help another person has the responsibility to do so. I have held that as my mantra ever since, so I would have to say that Jan Davidson had the greatest influence on whom I have become.
Q: When did you find out being an advocate to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia was your calling?
Max: At first I concentrated on distributing puzzles and trying to provide moments of accomplishment and pleasure for Alzheimer’s patients. When I was 12, I won $2500 from Build a Bear Workshop that I could donate to any 501c3 organization of my choosing. I chose to donate it to the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center. They invited me to visit the BU ADC and personally deliver the check. That day, I knew I identified with these researchers and physicians, and I have been part of that team ever since.
Q: Of your many accomplishments (PuzzlesToRemember, presenting at the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry’s conference, volunteer research intern at Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, and your many projects earlier in life), which one are you most proud of?
Max: I am usually most proud of my most recent accomplishments. In this case, I would have to say that I am most proud that a paper I co-authored has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease. It is my first scientific research paper contributing to knowledge in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. I am also very proud of PuzzlesToRemember, including the development of the Springbok PuzzlesToRemember, puzzles made specifically for Alzheimer’s patients. Of course, I’m equally proud of my book, “Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? An Explanation of Alzheimer’s Disease for Children.”
Q: Tell us about PuzzelsToRemember. How exactly do they help Alzheimer’s patients?
Max: PuzzlesToRemember has distributed over 24,000 jigsaw puzzles to Alzheimer’s facilities around the world. Springbok PuzzlesToRemember comes in 12 or 36 large pieces, bright colors, and memory provoking themes. These puzzles give Alzheimer’s patients a feeling of accomplishment that is all too rare in this population. The benefits of doing these puzzles is that often, even when a patient has forgotten about the puzzle, the feeling of calm and accomplishment remain with them for some time afterwards. I receive many photos of Alzheimer’s patients from around the world with smiles on their faces as they do these puzzles. The puzzles also allow for positive interaction between patients and their care partners.
Q: What have you learned in your intern role at the Molecular Psychiatry and Aging Laboratory at BU’s ALZ’s Disease Center? Any new cutting-edge molecular ALZ research we should know about?
Max: I have learned more in the Molecular Psychiatry and Aging Laboratory than I have ever learned anywhere else. I am part of their team. I am trusted to do important procedures and my ideas are met with appreciation. As you can tell, I love my job there. My recently accepted paper deals with the affects of ACE inhibitors among Alzheimer’s patients. My current project is testing a naturally occurring hormone in transgenic mice, and the results appear very interesting.
Q: You recently published a children’s book, Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in The Refrigerator? Where did you get the idea for the book, and how did you select Carolyn Given as your co-author?
Max: First, I asked Mrs. Given if she would coauthor a book with me. Mrs. Given was my English teacher in middle school. We have maintained a friendship ever since. I knew that Mrs. Given has a wonderful sense of humor and that her input would keep the book from becoming too dark and add a touch of humor to the book. Mrs. Given is herself a caregiver to her husband who is currently doing very well in his battle against multiple myeloma.
Mrs. Given responded that she would coauthor with me. Two hours later I sent her a completed first draft of the book. I had been writing that book for so many years in my head, that it took only two hours to get it down on paper. Of course, the book has gone through many revisions since then.
I knew there were no books available that explain Alzheimer’s disease to children, as well as give them an understandable picture image of what is causing the changes in their loved one. Also, many books provide adult care partners with coping skills, but nothing like this was available for children. I decided to provide children with some coping skills so that they could continue to have a loving relationship with family members who have Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: If you would like to get one message out to people about Alzheimer’s, what would that message be?
Max: I’d have two messages. One would be that the person that they knew is still there. They have not become someone else. It is just hard for them to communicate. Care partners have to be patient and provide different opportunities for the patient to express themselves.
The other message is that Alzheimer’s disease is the single biggest economic threat to our country. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report, Alzheimer’s currently costs the nation $203 billion annually with projections to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050. Over the next 40 years, caring for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias will cost $20 trillion — enough to pay off the national debt and still send $10,000 to every man, woman and child in the America.
Q: If you could spend an afternoon with someone from history, who would you choose and why?
Max: I can’t choose. There are too many.
Q: What is your biggest ambition?
Max: I want to become a Geriatric Psychiatrist, working with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. I also want to continue to do research.
Q: What will you focus on when Alzheimer’s is cured?
Max: Seeing to it that the cure becomes available to everyone afflicted. In some countries, like Aruba, where we think there exists a paradise, the elderly are being treated dismally.
Q: Any young words of wisdom for our readers?
Max: I believe that everyone can make a difference in the world. No one is too young, too old, too poor, or too disadvantaged to make a positive difference on the life of someone else. Microphilanthropy is the path to improving our society. Small ideas and small good deeds add up to something important.
Max Wallack is a 17-year-old junior at Boston University, as well as a researcher in the Molecular Psychiatry in Aging Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine. Max was a caregiver to his great grandmother who had Alzheimer’s Disease, and, in 2008, he founded www.PuzzlesToRemember.org, a 501c3 organization that has supplied over 23,000 puzzles to Alzheimer’s facilities around the world. A member of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, Max gives research presentations at national conferences and publishes articles about his work in scientific journals. Max plans to become a geriatric psychiatrist, working with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
Update: the book giveaway has ended. Congrats to our winners.
Alzheimers.net and Max will read through the entries and randomly select three winners. We will announce the winners here on the blog on Tuesday, September 10. Good luck!
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