For individuals living with the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers, there often are moments that wouldn’t be described as lighthearted, let alone whimsical. Yet, recently at Tesoro in Westbury, a sense of lightheartedness was very much in the air, as approximately 30 people attended “Whimsical Wednesdays,” a program run by the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF). The monthly program invites those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia, along with their spouse, other family member or caregiver, to enjoy a light lunch, easy conversation, music and dancing.
“Just wonderful,” were the first words Linda Fitzsimons used to describe the program, as she sat with her sister, Justine Roach. This was the Manhasset residents’ second time at a Whimsical Wednesdays event. Roach was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years ago and has been cared for by Fitzsimons for the past year and a half. Fitzsimons is grateful for this social outlet that she feels is not only beneficial for her sister, but for herself as well. Acknowledging the isolation felt during her early caregiver days, Fitzsimons welcomes the companionship and relaxed mood at the event. She relates how outgoing her sister was at the previous luncheon.
“She ate her entire lunch, and I just had to call all my brothers and sisters to tell them how Justine not only danced, but sang too,” said Fitzsimons. “I was amazed at how she remembered the words to the songs; many of those songs were from when we were young. A great experience.”
Music can awaken strong memories, especially when tunes have special meaning or familiarity. Studies are considering whythis happens, and in turn, how music therapy can assist in improving the lives of those whose memories are fading. LIAF offers Whimsical Wednesdays with this in mind.
“Offering this program enables us to provide a relaxed and enjoyable moment in time to be shared between those diagnosed and their loved ones,” according to Christine Rice, LIAF’s community outreach and events coordinator. “Through the generosity of a foundation connected with one of our participants, we have been able to provide this quality time over the last two years.”
Lisa Belinsky helped secure funding for Whimsical Wednesdays in recognition of her parents, the Vecchios, who participate at the luncheon and other LIAF programs.
“Everyone would always marvel at the two of them, how they danced together at all weddings and such events, flawlessly doing so many different dances,” said Belinsky. “It amazed me that Mom would have a problem remembering certain things, but when the music of her youth came on, she could sing along with the words.”
As dancers James and Stine of Rhythm Break Cares—a nonprofit specializing in bringing the joy of music and dance to individuals living with dementia—led the conga line looping around the room. Tom Slattery spoke of the camaraderie and the chance to “just relax for a couple of hours.”
Slattery is the full-time caregiver for his wife, Sandy, 53, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease four years ago.
“This is our third or fourth time here; it’s fantastic to be able to talk to people going through the same challenges,” said Slattery.
“My wife looks forward to it; we both do. I write it on the calendar and remind her about it, the music, dancing. There is a serenity about it.”
The luncheon wrapped up with a drawing for a Valentine’s Day-themed goody bag brought by Lynn Iseppon, the community outreach coordinator for Senior Helpers in Hicksville. Though Justine Roach was not very talkative or interested in singing and dancing this time around, her face lit up when she heard she won. Her smile grew as she promptly shared the assorted sweets with her table mates.
The next Whimsical Wednesdays event is planned for March 8. To reserve a seat or to donate to the program, contact Christine Rice by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 516-767-6856, ext. 19.