Connecting music, Memories and Friendship at LIAF's Whimsical Wednesdays

Whimsical Wednesdays

For individuals who are living with the challenges associated with Alzheimer's disease, and for their caregivers, there often are moments that wouldn't be described as light-hearted, let alone, whimsical. Yet, recently at Tesoro in Westbury, a sense of light-heartedness 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. Ms. Roach was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four years ago and has been cared for by Mrs. Fitzsimons for the past year and a half. Mrs. 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, Mrs. Fizsimons 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! 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 why this 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. According to Christine Rice, LIAF's Community Outreach and Events Coordinator, "Offering this program enables us to provide a relaxed and enjoyable moment in time to be shared between those diagnosed and their loved ones. 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. She says, "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. 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!"

Going forward, LIAF has begun training that will enable them to become a MUSIC & MEMORY℠ Certified Care Organization, utilizing a program that helps individuals living with Alzheimer's, dementia and other challenges reconnect to the world through personalized music.  

As dancers James and Stine of Rhythm Break Cares—a non-profit 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 comradery and the chance to "just relax for a couple of hours." Mr. Slattery is the full-time caregiver for his wife, Sandy. Just 53, Mrs. Slattery 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. And an afternoon to unwind; can't put a price tag on it. 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 RSVP, learn more, or to donate to the program, please contact Christine Rice, Community Outreach and Events Coordinator at crice@liaf.org or call (516) 767-6856, ext. 19.

Caption: Lynn Iseppon, Community Outreach Coordinator for Senior Helpers, presents raffle winner Justine Roach with her prize at the recent Whimsical Wednesdays lunch.

For more information about the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, please contact Nancy Leghart, Director of External Affairs at nleghart@liaf.org or (516)767-6856 ext. 28. To schedule an intake, please contact Melissa Katz, Director of Early Stage/In-Home Respite at mkatz@liaf.org or call (516) 767-6856 ext. 14.

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For 29 years, LIAF has been providing supportive community-based services to Alzheimer’s families on Long Island. LIAF offers critically needed social adult day programs for individuals facing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their caregivers. LIAF takes considerable pride in its pioneering role in the development of cutting edge services that foster the independence, dignity, well-being and safety of individuals with Alzheimer’s. For information call (516) 767-6856 or visit www.liaf.org