Her mother Emma looked online to find where her young daughter could go for support by talking with other kids who were going through the same thing. She couldn’t find any.
That’s when they decided to start their own organization. In February, Hailey started a support group and blog called Kid Caregivers.
“I can tell them about how I feel about people with Alzheimer’s disease and they can respond,” Richman said. “They can ask me for help and everything. They get advice, tips and ideas from me.”
The Long Island City native, who is now in the fourth grade, said she felt sad when she found out her grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Her mother explained what it was and what could happen.
“All the memories she had of me are going to be gone,” she said.
In her blog posts, Richman frequently shares photos of her interactions with her grandma. They eat together, solve puzzles and participate in arts and crafts.
She also shares tips about how young people can help people coping with the debilitating disease. She advises caregivers to “go into their world” and not to argue.
Richman said her grandmother has sometimes called her Emma, her mother’s name, but she doesn’t correct her. She just goes along with it.
“Make the person feel useful,” Richman wrote in a February 27th blog post. “I told my grandma that I needed her help and she stopped being difficult and was happy to help me.”
Richman also said talking to them about their favorite things, what they like to do, and music also helps. One day, she put headphones on her grandma and played music from her iPod shuffle.
“Throughout the whole day, she kept singing her tunes,” Richman said. “She started talking about music from the 1940s. She started talking about true things that happened in her childhood.”
Kid Caregivers’ mission has spread around the world. Richman said her blog has viewers from Iraq, Russia, China and India. Children from Germany and Africa have participated in the support group as well.
“My favorite part about Kid Caregivers is helping people and seeing how happy they are,” Richman said. “I learned that they all have the same feelings as me and they all want to help.
“I want everybody to know that they’re not alone,” she added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 5 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s disease. As a progressive disease, the illness begins with mild memory loss, but could worsen to the loss of ability to carry on a conversation or respond to the environment.
Symptoms such as memory loss, getting lost, repeating questions, misplacing things and taking longer to complete daily tasks usually first appear after the age of 60, but the risk increases with age.
By 2050, the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s is projected to reach 14 million. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, and it is currently the sixth leading cause of death among U.S. adults.
That means many families like the Richmans are taking the time to care for their loved ones. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15 million people identified as caregivers nationwide in 2015, dedicating approximately 18 million hours of care.
Emma Richman clarified that her daughter isn’t involved in the “heavy duty” and hygiene aspects of caregiving. Her role is more about mentally stimulating, entertaining and spending time with her grandmother.
In addition to running Kid Caregivers, Richman is also the assistant director of a nonprofit organization called Puzzles to Remember, which provides puzzles to nursing homes, veteran facilities, and other places that care for patients with dementia.
According to the organization’s website, puzzles have a “calming effect” on patients, and Richman said she has seen this firsthand. She volunteers at a senior center two times a week, and if she has time off from school, she visits up to four times a week.
“It helps their brain because even though the puzzles are really easy, it keeps them calm,” she said. “They solve it and it relaxes them. Solving [puzzles] improves their mood.”
All of her work didn’t go unnoticed. In November, Hasbro, the toy and board game company, honored Richman as one of 10 nationwide “Community Action Heroes.” The accolade is given to youth who have demonstrated qualities like kindness, courage and leadership in their communities.
Each honoree received a $1,000 educational scholarship and a $500 grant to their selected nonprofit.
“I feel amazing and super excited,” Richman said about winning the award.
With the $500, Richman said she will help purchase more puzzles to distribute at nursing homes and care facilities.
Richman also received the President’s Community Service Award and the Giraffe Project Heroes Award. On December 12, Richman appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with actor Will Smith, who was talking about his inspiration behind the film “Collateral Beauty.”
On air, Richman spoke about her work helping people with Alzheimer’s disease.
And she’s not done yet. Richman said she’s working on a prototype for an invention called an alert system for walkers that will, hopefully, prevent dementia patients from falling. She came up with the idea after her grandma fell and hurt her eyes and nose.
“I thought if she had a walker alert all that time, we could’ve prevented her from falling,” Richman said. “We’re getting the parts and we’re constructing it.”
She’s also planning to write a book that will include a “caregiver’s kit” on how to care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. She hopes that it will be published within the next year.
“To those much has been given, much is expected,” Richman said. “It means that since I have a lot, I try to give back. I know what it feels like to have somebody with dementia, I thought I could help other people.”