Help is out there
Kristen Clifford remembers how Alzheimer’s disease affected her family. She aims to make a difference for other families.
By Eric Butterman
Kristen Clifford (M.B.A. ’14) has made it her career to care for others.
Seeing her grandmother, Emma, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, Clifford now has a chance to make a difference as the chief program officer for the Alzheimer's Association. “I remember watching my grandmother get worse, watching my grandfather deal with the realities of what was happening in the 1980s and ’90s and, at the time, my family really didn’t know where to turn for help and support. I remember my mother’s anguish, my grandmother’s anger and sadness as she lost her words and lost her speech completely, and no longer recognized us.
“Now I get to be a part in helping others get the resources they need,” she says.
Clifford oversees programs such as the association’s helpline, which offers care consultations and provides emotional assistance and resources 24 hours a day every day of the year.
“Our association also has been working with the CDC and was selected by them for the BOLD Public Health Center of Excellence for dementia risk reduction,” she says. “We’re reviewing important (scientific) information, partnering with others and translating information into action that public health departments can take to communities—and making sure to give proper attention to underserved communities.” Clifford is also in charge of other programs in areas such as social engagement and education. She oversees online tools, such as ALZConnected, which connects people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch, a clinical study matching service.
Clifford, who lives in Austin, previously worked for the National MS Society. She started as vice president, Health Professional Relations and Clinical Activities in 2014, covering a five-state region before moving into a national role. “It was building a team and a strategy from scratch,” says Clifford. She also worked as executive director at Avid Education Partners and senior director, Program Management, for The Curry Rockefeller Group.
“When there was a national reorganization, it involved getting to know the healthcare community in a different way and growing things at a time when new treatments were continuing to happen and where an outcome might be very different than just decades before. It was gratifying to work with healthcare providers and health systems to make sure people were getting the highest quality care.”
Texas State University was key in helping Clifford grow in her career. “One of the things I enjoyed the most was the cohort of peers with many different kinds of careers,” she says. “There was also a study abroad program where I went to Chile. It was a wonderful experience where I got to see real world application — it was the experience of learning about energy sources or another experience in a winery and learning about local tourism.”
She was also selected for a Texas State business consulting team planning grant, getting a chance to evaluate Rodeo Austin for how it could reach a younger audience and improve their marketing materials.
Clifford says the most challenging part of her present position is prioritization but it’s a stimulating challenge to be in charge of so many programs. “It’s incredibly meaningful to do something that can really touch lives,” she says. “When I’m traveling and I’m not able to see my children or when I’m working late, I can tell my kids it’s for people I need to help. To pass that on to my loved ones, doing work that has a real impact it means so much.
“I know my grandmother would be so proud of this work and be happy to see the progress in the support that families can get that wasn’t always there. People are hurting and we’re here to help.”