Lakewood Ranch High junior Emma Cecil wants to help her grandmother, Elizabeth Hoyle, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Along the way, she might even be able to improve her own future.
“Since [Alzheimer’s] runs in the family, I wanted to see what I could do to help find new preventative measures and what I could do to improve overall brain health,” Cecil said.
But at 16 years old, she wasn’t sure how she could help.
Then she discovered the Brain Health Scholars program offered by Brain Health Initiative in Lakewood Ranch.
“I teared up when I was writing my application because I thought about how much this could help me, help my mom, help stop something that has already affected my grandma so greatly,” Cecil said. “It could help my family a lot and help my kids one day and my kids’ kids.”
The Brain Health Scholars program is being offered to high school and college students who are 16 or older. Those accepted into the program will help with the Brain Health Initiative’s community brain health prioritization survey.
The BHI project represents a collaboration between the Academy for Brain Health and Performance and Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, in partnership with the Lakewood Ranch community.
The inaugural class of Brain Health Scholars consists of 69 students from 19 schools and universities. Twelve students from East County schools were selected.
Kaylen Rivers, a senior at The Out-of-Door Academy, was shocked to learn she was accepted into the program.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been interested in figuring out how things work and what makes things function,” Rivers said. “It’s such an amazing opportunity. I was thinking anyone who is anyone is going to apply to this.
“When I got in, and they said they chose the best people in the region, I was like, ‘This can’t be me.’”
Those selected started with virtual lectures Aug. 13 with Harvard faculty members about brain health and the initiative. Throughout their time in the program, the students will be assisting BHI staff members to develop questions for a youth survey and to understand how young people perceive brain health.
Students will learn firsthand how research and analysis of data is conducted and about the process of putting a study like the BHI together.
“This seemed too good to be true,” said Liam Tvenstrup, a Braden River High School junior who was looking for an internship related to medical research. “It’s hard to get an internship in the medical field as a high school student. … Going into the future, this is the kind of stuff I want to be doing.”
Tvenstrup and Rivers look forward to learning about research from professional researchers as well as discovering what they find during their analysis.
Some students, including Rivers and Cecil, have taken a survey to share their opinions and perspectives on brain health.
“[The survey] made me think of things I never really thought of,” said Rivers, who couldn’t disclose questions on the survey. “It made me think of the situations Sarasota and Manatee [counties] are in specifically.
“I definitely began to look at life with a new lens, especially in our community. I never exactly noticed how many people are struggling with depression and other mental illnesses in Sarasota and Manatee counties. I knew about it, but I never knew that many people were impacted by it.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic making a substantial impact on the Lakewood Ranch community and its residents, Cecil said it’s now more important than ever to have a study done on brain health.
“This is the most important time in my lifetime to be studying brain health — not only with the social injustice we have going on and the pandemic, but my friends and I are at an age that it affects our