Students help Alzheimer's patients

Little pleasures mean a lot in the Alzheimer's care unit at Golden Living Center. A warm cup of coffee, a familiar song, the smell of fresh-baked bread or the sight of flames dancing in a fireplace can bring smiles to faces and memories to the su...

Golden Living
Chris Smith, Alzheimer's care director for Golden Living Center in Superior, pages through her music book Thursday in the family room of the center's Alzheimer's care unit. Music is a good way to prompt reminiscing, Smith said, and she plays the organ just about daily for residents, always ending with the "Beer Barrel Polka." Superior High School students are holding a cookout fundraiser, complete with cake buffet, on April 1 to raise money to purchase an aquarium and fish for the unit. (Maria Lockwood)

Little pleasures mean a lot in the Alzheimer's care unit at Golden Living Center. A warm cup of coffee, a familiar song, the smell of fresh-baked bread or the sight of flames dancing in a fireplace can bring smiles to faces and memories to the surface.

"We all have a story and that story's not forgotten here," said Chris Smith, Alzheimer's care director for the center.

A group of Superior High School students want to help add grist to the memory mill at Golden Living Center. Johnathan Finkbeiner, Catie Albrecht, Brianna Eales, Laura Schlacks and Mickayla Lindberg will host a cookout fundraiser for the unit from noon to 7 p.m. April 1 at the Old Firehouse & Police Museum, 402 N. 23rd Ave. E. A silent auction and 50/50 raffle will be held. Visitors can also take free self-guided tours of the museum. Proceeds from the event will be used to purchase an aquarium and fish from Aqua Hut, Smith said.

"Whatever they raise, that's what we'll buy," she said. Any money left over will be slated for buying a tabletop water fountain and perennials for the unit's avid gardeners.

Students encouraged everyone to stop by the barbecue.


"You're going to have to eat your meal somewhere so why not eat it and help a good cause," Schlacks said.

Currently, staff take residents from the unit to see the aquarium in the main dining room of the facility. But all the activity in the area can be too stimulating for some residents. Thanks to the students, these seniors will be able to watch fish in the quiet of the Alzheimer's unit family room. It may prompt residents to reminisce like they do by the digital fireplace in a nearby nook.

"You gather four people around that with hot chocolate or a cup of coffee, those brains start cooking," Smith said.

When the students met with the unit director, she was impressed by their enthusiasm and desire to help.

"They have such a heart for this, such a huge amount of respect (for seniors)," she said.

The students chose to focus on Alzheimer's care for their senior social studies project because two of them have relatives with the disease.

"I know my grandpa's probably late 70s and is forgetting everything," Eales said. "It takes a toll."

For others, talking with Smith enlightened them.


"We got down on a personal level with her and I mean, I never really had any connection to Alzheimer's or dementia before that and after that it just kind of sparked," Finkbeiner said.

"Chris told us they're the forgotten people," Albrecht said. "People don't pay attention to them anymore ... but they're still important. They're still a part of someone else's family. It's exciting to be able to help them."

Smith also gave them an idea for their event. Along with hot dogs, hamburgers and salad, the cookout will feature a variety of cakes -- marble, yellow, chocolate and Smith's specialty, German chocolate.

"We're doing a cake buffet because apparently seniors really like their dessert," Eales said. "And they plan to eat it first, half of the time."

Each year, members of the senior social studies class must choose a "make a difference" project.

"We have to help someone in our community, or not even in our community, just to help someone out," Eales said. "We have to see the value of life."

About six years ago, Golden Living launched a program called enabling freedom, focused on improving the quality of life for residents with Alzheimer's and dementia.

"We constantly exercise people's brains with daily living skills," Smith said, providing patient-centered care that preserves dignity.


Sandy Chevalier, a nursing assistant with the unit, said simple questions like "Do you remember when Bridgeman's was on Belknap?" or a mention of Kresge's and Woolworth's can spark memories for residents. Music, baking, setting tables and daily living skills like brushing teeth can exercise the brain and foster independence. Staff are specially trained to work with these seniors and learn a lot about them -- whether they were dancers, musicians, figure skater, farmers or businessmen.

"We love all of our residents," said Tanya Colby, a CNA with the unit.

While it would be nice to have big-ticket items like a 23-passenger van to bring residents out on field trips, Smith said, staff and residents are happy with the little things -- a cup of coffee, a batch of cookies, and soon, a fish tank.

"Everything we do for someone with dementia brings them joy and gives them dignity," Smith said. "That's the only way to go out of this world, with dignity."

Admission to the April 1 event is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-12 and children age 4 and younger eat for free. The students are currently selling 50/50 raffle tickets for $2 apiece.

For more information, email Finkbeiner at .

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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