Just after 10 p.m., when most people their age are going to sleep, a group of elderly people with dementia are just getting started, dancing and shaking tambourines and maracas in a raucous version of "La Bamba."

"It's a party," says an 81-year-old woman, among dozens of patients brought to a Bronx nursing home every night for a structured series of sing-alongs, crafts and therapy sessions that lasts until dawn.

The program, which appears to be rare, is a kind of "night camp" for dementia patients who don't sleep at night or tend to wake up agitated or become frightened or disoriented at the fall of darkness.

It's meant to provide care and activity -- lots of activity -- to fill the wee hours for people with Alzheimer's and similar diseases who live at home. And it's meant to provide their caregivers, usually a son or daughter, with a treasured night's sleep.

"Without this program, my father would be lost, and I would be crazy," said Robert Garcia. Felix Garcia, 82, is in the program at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale called ElderServe at Night. "He doesn't sleep. At night he's wide awake, and he needs activity."

Garcia, who lives in a Bronx apartment with his wife and three children, said his father would wake up in the night, loudly, and keep everyone else from sleeping.

"We would all wake up, and my daughter would ask, 'Why is Grandpa screaming? Why is he so grumpy?' " Garcia said. "Now he comes home in the morning, shows me his drawings, tells me what they did all night."

While many nursing homes offer temporary "respite care" so caregivers can catch up on sleep or go on vacation, the overnight-only program at the Hebrew Home fills a niche.

But costs are high, and such programs are rare. An official at the Alzheimer's Association said she knew of no other.

Most patients' care is covered by Medicaid, which pays the Hebrew Home $140 a night, plus $74 for transportation to and from home.

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