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Barrett sophomore and kinesiology major Simur Khurana gained real-world experience studying Alzheimer’s and dementia in a class focusing on the illnesses taught by Dr. Gillian Hamilton.
Khurana chose to pursue a degree in kinesiology in preparation for attending medical school as a more practical alternative to areas of study like chemistry and biology that are more commonly taken by pre-med students.
“I felt that [kinesiology] was much more applicable when actually interacting with people. When you're talking to them, they say, ‘Why does my hand or why does my arm hurt?’ You're not gonna say, ‘Oh, because of the cells in your arm,’ you're going to be like, ‘Oh, well the joints are going through this,’” Khurana said.
Khurana did not plan to focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia when he started studying at ASU. He happened upon the course when signing up for fall 2019 classes and despite having no prior knowledge about the subject, took interest in it.
“I was like, wait, this looks really cool,” Khurana said. “I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I was like, it's gonna be a new experience, and it'll be a productive one for sure.”
The class met as a group once a week, and outside of class, each student in the course was partnered with an Alzheimer’s/dementia patient and their caretaker based on mutual interests and location. The students met with their partners for two to four hours once a week and built personal relationships as they gained firsthand knowledge about Alzheimer’s/dementia.
In the classroom setting, Khurana learned from guest speakers about strategies to use when interacting with Alzheimer’s/dementia patients.
“One of them was music, incorporating music when interacting with these people to help set a mood, set a scene,” Khurana said. “So that maybe if they're a little frustrated, then it'll make them a little happier or a little calmer or something like that with music.”
When he was with his partner, Khurana gained firsthand experience with the challenges people with Alzheimer’s/dementia face in everyday life.
During one of their meetings, Khurana went with his partner and his partner’s caretaker to Subway. The caretaker asked a server if she could quickly unlock the restroom door, explaining she had someone with dementia with her who needed to use it right away.
The server responded with a confused smile and laugh and said she would do it after she finished making a sandwich.
“With people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia, it's a little unpredictable what's going to happen next,” Khurana said. “You really don't know. And whoever was making the sandwich literally went outside, pressed the button and it literally took like five seconds” to open the restroom door.
Experiences like this one made Khurana realize how important it is for all people to have a greater understanding of what Alzheimer’s/dementia is.
“That kind of awareness isn't here. It isn't prevalent in today's society,” Khurana said.
Toward the end of the semester, Khurana’s partner began to get flustered when he visited, so Khurana doesn’t anticipate visiting him as regularly in the future, but still keeps in contact with his partner’s caretaker.
“I think in the beginning, he really enjoyed my company and I enjoyed his company, I still enjoy his company,” Khurana said. “I don't think it would be a good decision to continue going over there frequently, but I'm sure once in a while, it'll still be great.”
One of the most impactful lessons Khurana took away from the course is to live in the moment.
“The thing about people who have Alzheimer's/dementia is that they're kind of forced to live in the present because of their condition. So they're not really thinking about what happened 15 minutes before. They're always living in the now and whatever they’re feeling, it’s in the now,” Khurana said.
“That kind of taught me that, you know, there's a certain beauty in living in the present, because there's nothing really weighing you down in the past that you're always thinking of.”
As for the future of his career, Khurana is unsure where in the health field his studies will take him, but has a newfound interest in Alzheimer’s/dementia since taking the course.
“After taking that class, I can definitely say that my interest has grown and I think it's a growing field as well with the prevalence of Alzheimer's/dementia increasing in today's society,” Khurana said. “I think this is an avenue that's totally applicable and available for me to take, especially after taking the class. It seems really interesting.”