CNN: With love and fear, Alzheimer’s youngest caregivers watch over parents

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that over 250,000 brave children help care for an older loved one, assisting their parents, grandparents, and other relatives, in addition to school and growing up. Learn more about this rising phenomenon. -SP

By Madison Park, CNN

(CNN) — One Saturday morning, Austin Mobley noticed his mother staring at him blankly.

“Who are you?” Tracy Mobley asked, he recalled.

“Mom, are you joking with me or what?”

“No,” she replied. She was adamant. “Who are you?”

It’s a gnawing fear that one fateful day, the memories of aging parents will fade and they won’t be able to recognize their own children.

For Austin, it started early. He was 6.

Austin is in an emerging generation of young caregivers of parents who have dementia.

The boy from Elkland, Missouri, would make sure his mom didn’t leave the stove on or wander out of the house. His dad, Allen Mobley, worked the night shift to support the family, so Austin watched his mother when he came home from school.

“What often happens is the kids end up being the unplanned caregivers,” said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the national Alzheimer’s Association.

“I’ve talked to kids, adolescents, who are helping their parents eat, bathe or are providing direct care, as well as being the person in the house to make sure everything’s OK. This is happening across the country. It’s happening more and more.”

The most recent data available from the association, released in 2003, estimated that 250,000 U.S. kids under 18 are unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s.

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Competition Provides Chance to Reflect on Brain Disorder

For many teens, it is caring for their own grandparents or even parents with Alzheimer’s disease that leads them to apply. For others, it is a meaningful connection with a resident while volunteering at a local nursing home or the excitement of researching possible treatment breakthroughs during a lab stint that prompts them to participate.

Regardless of their story, AFA is encouraging college-bound students to apply for its 3rd annual AFA Teens for Alzheimer’s Awareness College Scholarship. AFA will award $5,000 to the winner, and, new for 2010, $500 and $250 prizes for first and second runners-up, respectively, which must be used toward first year tuition at a four-year college or university.

The deadline is February 15, 2010. For more details and an application, visit