Posted: September 12, 2019
Balloon volleyball may not be an Olympic sport, but it is an activity of choice for Clermont Park’s Betty Eikermann. Living with Alzheimer’s isn’t easy, but Betty and her daughter-in-law, Kelsey, haven’t let it slow her down.
“My nickname for her is Backhand Betty,” shared Sarah Allen, Life Enrichment Coordinator of Clermont Park Life Plan Community, where Betty now resides. “We gather everyone who wants to in a circle, and our goal is to keep the balloon in the air with our hands.”
According to the Colorado Health Institute, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is increasing in Colorado and nationwide. By 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is projected to exceed 13 million, and more than 110,000 Coloradans are projected to have the disease by 2025, compared to 49,000 in 2000. This September 14th marks another year of Denver’s annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s, raising funds to find a cure. But while the research continues, there are already innovative programs in Denver to help those living with dementia continue to thrive.
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When Betty was diagnosed, there was only so much Kelsey could do for her at home, so they began looking for other options.
“We were looking for a way that she could still do what she loved, and do it safely,” Kelsey shared. “Access to a garden was absolutely a must. I was immediately impressed with the indoor therapy garden from ElderGrow by the Goldenrod neighborhood door — not to mention the fabulous patio and plants out there. Being able to go outside is very important to Betty, as is music.”
Frankly, Betty likes to socialize, a lot, and she takes part in just about every activity offered in the Goldenrod neighborhood, Clermont Park Life Plan Community’s name for the area Betty and other residents with dementia spend some of their time.
In her own words, “I love to get out.” From trips to the symphony, NY Deli and local parks for group picnics, to beer and wine samplings, Singfit classes, soap/perfume making and arranging fresh flowers for the community’s tables, Betty has found countless ways to stay active and continue to explore with her neighbors. And with the neighborhood’s packed schedule, she now keeps a calendar so full Kelsey has to track it so friends and family know when Betty is free for a visit.
“I’ve been so impressed with the energy and positivity of this place,” Kelsey shared. “I’ve met and gotten to know a lot of the residents already, and Betty’s really benefited from the social interaction.”
Betty’s experience shows how living with Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean that she can’t continue to make new friends and memories.
“Our goal is to offer special, one-of-a-kind activities that the residents love and that stimulate and create memories,” Sarah explained when asked about Clermont’s approach to dementia care. Clermont utilizes Rhythms Dementia and Life Enrichment Services, which focus on the strengths of each individual so the entire care partner team – staff and family members – learn about each person’s natural rhythm of life and adapt to that. Rhythms also encourages creative outlets and activities, which sometimes go against stereotypes.
One favorite monthly treat is the neighborhood’s foot soak and cocktail hour. Care partners harvest an herb of the month, usually grown by community members (including Betty) in their own ElderGrow herb garden. From these they craft an herbal foot soak and matching mixed drink for each member of the Goldenrod neighborhood. Last month featured lemon verbena, and this month’s calendar promises lavender sugar scrub and cocktails.
Not only is it fun to be pampered once in a while, but these activities encourage social interaction, exploration and physical activity. The result?
“We’ve even seen residents who we were told didn’t want to be bothered come out and start participating on their own in group activities,” shared Elizabeth Girling, Director of Assisted Living at Clermont Park, “They experience less agitation and fewer falls. We have found that these activities are key to our residents’ overall emotional and physical health.”
Clermont Park Life Plan Community is also active in helping to find a cure. This year the group will be helping sponsor the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and several of Betty’s neighbors/care partners are participating on Clermont’s team to help raise funds for a cure. While the research continues, Betty and Kelsey’s story provides a hopeful reminder that there are many opportunities available for those with dementia to keep living to the full.
Written by Bryn Phinney. This story originally appeared in Denver Post’s YourHub and is used by permission.