One day, a group of residents at The Parc on Sharon Amity, a memory care facility, wandered into Camilla Carpenter’s office.
Carpenter, who teaches Zumba in her spare time, decided to play some of the Latin-beat music from her classes for them.
She was stunned by what happened.
“They come alive,” said Carpenter, resident care manager at The Parc.
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Residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who usually didn’t speak or move around much would dance and sing to the music.
“I’ve literally had people put down a walker and shake,” Carpenter said.
She put down her phone and ran outside to her car, where she had a speaker in her trunk. She set it up in The Parc’s dining room and played the music more loudly.
She began doing Zumba with residents every Friday afternoon, and in 2014 she organized the first Zumbathon, a local fundraiser for the Western North Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
This month, The Parc hosted the second annual Zumbathon, which raised hundreds of dollars for the Alzheimer’s Association chapter and brought together staff, families and residents from Meridian Senior Living’s Charlotte area facilities.
I’ve literally had people put down a walker and shake.
Carpenter was one of 10 area Zumba instructors who volunteered to lead the two-hour “Zumbathon To End Alzheimer’s” this month at Myers Park Baptist Church.
Some instructors had taught a Zumba class at their regular gym earlier that morning, then came straight to the Zumbathon, Carpenter said. Staff drove some residents to the events, and families and staff joined them for Zumba.
Almost all stayed for the entire two hours.
The Alzheimer’s Association chapter supports advocacy, awareness and research for Alzheimer’s disease and those affected by it.
The Parc focuses on residential memory care. The facility is locked to keep residents from wandering away, and the staff is trained to handle the unique challenges of people who have lost most or all of their memory.
Meridian Senior Living also operates Willow Ridge Memory Care on Milton Road and Lawyers Glen Retirement Center in Mint Hill. Coury O’Donoghue, regional business development director for Meridian Senior Living, said the three facilities have 134 memory care beds and almost always have a wait list.
“There’s more of a need than there is care available in a facility setting,” O’Donoghue said.
The facilities become home for residents, where staff help them with everything from getting dressed to feeding themselves, O’Donoghue said.
O’Donoghue said her company, which is based in Hickory, has a culture of supporting the Alzheimer’s Association through annual fundraisers. In Charlotte, the company has several memory care communities close together, and they decided to hold their own local fundraiser.
“We wanted to do something that we would be proud of, that would bring attention to the Alzheimer’s Association so that more people would find out what they are and what they do,” O’Donoghue said.
The staff already walked together, often with residents from their communities, in the annual walk to support the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s helps our staff remember that it’s not just us,” O’Donoghue said. “We’re part of a larger community of caregivers.”
Staff members see the ongoing challenges of Alzheimer’s and related diseases for patients and families, and they understand the importance of research for a cure or treatment. They also care deeply about the residents, Carpenter said.
“Trying to find a way to make them better is the ultimate goal,” she said.
Music, Carpenter said, triggers something in people who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. While many often can’t express much emotion, they smile, laugh and clap to music.
“They love every minute of it,” Carpenter said.
They respond, even when the music veers toward unfamiliar hip-hop.
“There’s just a difference. I don’t know if it’s the beat, the vibration, but I play it,” she said.
O’Donoghue said it was gratifying to make a contribution to research and feel like you’re making a difference.
“It’s kind of nice to put your (Alzheimer’s Association color) purple on and boogie down for a good cause,” O’Donoghue said.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.