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Alzheimer’s exercises aim to improve patients’ memories

Lindsay Knudsen leads a recent memory fitness workshop

Lindsay Knudsen leads a recent memory fitness workshop for Alzheimer's patients in Westbury, where the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation sponsors sessions twice a week at the Amber Court Assisted Living Facility. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Twice a week, a handful of senior citizens gathers at Amber Court Assisted Living Facility in Westbury to exercise their memories.

Led by social workers, they play word association games, sing along to classic American tunes, and do arts and crafts, all in an attempt to delay the progression of the ailment they share: Alzheimer’s disease. The program is part of a new initiative by the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation to offer more memory fitness workshops for every stage of the disease.

“We are trying to do programs that start even before diagnosis,” said Tori Cohen, executive director of the foundation. “For people that really may feel that Alzheimer’s is a stigma, it’s a good entry point.”

There is no cure for the neurodegenerative disease, which affects one in nine Americans over the age of 65, according to the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association, based in Chicago.

There are more than 320,000 people in New York State living with Alzheimer’s, according to the state Health Department. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s — about 5.3 million — is expected to triple by 2050.

The Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, based in Port Washington, has offered services for those with Alzheimer’s for more than two decades, but recently began opening satellite locations to better serve the community, Cohen said. In January, the foundation opened the first of its memory fitness centers in Westbury, followed by a second location in Rockville Centre in April.

Now a few months in, the center at Amber Court has a regular set of about 10 participants who arrive twice a week for memory training and cognitive stimulation. Participants in the adult day program are bused in for the half-day program, which also gives their caregivers time off.

Cohen said caregivers, who are usually spouses or children, often experience burnout, and giving them respite was another large part of the program’s goal.

“These types of programs that are out there alleviate a lot of the stress,” Cohen added. “Sometimes it’s hard for these caregivers to leave their loved ones.”

Loretta Sanchez, 75, of Levittown, is the primary caregiver for her husband, Tony, also 75, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007. Tony enjoys attending the foundation’s memory fitness centers, where he goes most days of the week, and it gives Sanchez time to herself.

“It is a sad disease,” she said. “It takes their whole life away from them. When you get old, your memory is the whole thing for you. Your whole life is washed away. You can’t talk about memories because they don’t understand.”

Cohen said the foundation hopes to open more satellite locations in Nassau County and serve more families in the community.

Memory fitness program

  • Port Washington: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, 5 Channel Dr.
  • Rockville Centre: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday; Maple Pointe Assisted Living, 260 Maple Ave.
  • Westbury: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; Amber Court Assisted Living, 3400 Brush Hollow Rd.

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