Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, heroes are very much on the minds of Americans.

Our heroes come in many forms. Some make enormous sacrifices, such as the victims of 9/11 including the many emergency responders and civilians who did what they could to help others. Some are the everyday heroes who quietly go about their efforts, doing the small things that make a real difference in the lives of those they touch. What they all share is a uniquely American blend of optimism, determination, and refusal to take “no” for an answer. It is the spirit of all our heroes that define the best about what it means to be an American.

Meet one of them. Max Wallack, age 15, of Natick, Massachusetts, attends Boston University Academy, where he excels in his academic studies and in his extra-curricular activities. Max is a budding inventor and starting at the young age of seven, he has won numerous competitions and awards with his clever, innovative entries.

Older adults frequently get stereotyped. So do teenagers. There are many extraordinary young adults who are not only intelligent, but also compassionate beyond their years. What sets Max apart is his drive to give back.

Like many teenagers, Max knows the pain of seeing a beloved older relative suffer with the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. He watched his great-grandmother Gertrude Finkelstein deteriorate and eventually pass away in 2007. His very first invention at the age of seven was a portable step with a handle that allowed his great-grandmother to get in and out of a van unassisted and more easily.

Based on his experiences with Gertrude, Max decided to pursue a career as a geriatric psychiatrist, and he is working toward this goal. But Max was determined to do something to help ease the pain of this disease for its sufferers and their families today, years before finishing his formal schooling.

So at the age of 13, Max the inventor started a nonprofit organization called Puzzles To Remember. (Yes, age THIRTEEN). Like many brilliant ideas, this one is simple. Max learned that working with puzzles could help a person with Alzheimer’s delay and relieve the symptoms of dementia. It also gives the individual and their family, friends and caregivers a positive activity they can do together.

Max started asking people to donate new or good condition used puzzles. He then turned around and distributed them to nursing homes in his community. Puzzles started pouring in.

In the past four years, Max’s organization has now given over 5,000 puzzles to hundreds of facilities working with Alzheimer’s patients in the United States and Canada.

Max has made presentations about Puzzles to Remember to service clubs and schools, and been featured on television including a series on PBS. He has also been featured on AlzheimersReadingRoom.com, which is where I learned about Max’s amazing work. Imagine my surprise to find out Max is also an editor of this well respected website and frequently writes articles for it.

Max has won numerous awards for his work. Frequently they come with cash prizes, which he then donates to the Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center to help fund research.

Max is driven to work with Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. During his spring break, Max volunteered at a Veterans Administration hospital working with Alzheimer’s and other neurologically-impaired patients. When Max was honored last year for his work by the Nestle “Very Best In Youth” Award, this is what Max said about his experience: “These are my heroes. I find it sad that these men and women, who sacrificed so much for our country, now cannot even remember their great deeds. It is of utmost importance to me to provide as much relief as possible to this population.”

The Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Boston University invited Max to work with them this past summer, right alongside graduate and medical students who warmly welcomed him as one of their own despite his youth.

Max says every single puzzle he receives has the potential to bring feelings of joy and fulfillment to an Alzheimer’s patient.

In a world in need of heroes, please be Max’s hero and support Puzzles To Remember with your donation of puzzles or monetary support to help him fund his organization and Max’s support of research to find treatment and a cure for this horror called Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more at www.puzzlestoremember.com

This week upon the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I want to acknowledge and salute those American heroes and their families who are the victims and survivors of the terrorist attacks on American soil a decade ago.

NEXT WEEK: The Challenge of Long-Distance Caregiving

Laurie Edwards-Tate, MS, is President and CEO of At Your Home Familycare in San Diego, California. Read more  LifeCycles in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow At Your Home Familycare on Facebook and on Twitter @AYHFamilycare.
Copyright © 2011 by At Your Home Familycare


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