Candle lighting honors Alzheimer's patients

Publish Date:

Monday, November 25, 2013


News Organization:

Ventura County Star

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KAREN QUINCY LOBERG/THE STAR Michael Singer holds the hand of his father, Leon Singer, 95, after speaking Sunday about Alzheimer’s disease at a Sunrise Senior Living candle lighting in Westlake Village.

As part of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Sunrise Senior Living of Westlake Village held a candle-lighting ceremony Sunday to honor people with Alzheimer’s disease and remember those who died from it.

In addition to music, several of the facility caretakers and managers spoke about their experiences, and many family members shared memories of their loved ones. Their experiences with the disease seemed to have led each one to say, “Live for the moment.”

As the memory care manager, reminiscence coordinator Lori Aldridge is in charge of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

KAREN QUINCY LOBERG/THE STAR Ashley Antonsen (left) greets resident Stanley Schireson on Sunday at the Sunrise Senior Living candle lighting in honor of loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. The ceremony took place in Westlake Village.

“Tonight is about enjoying the music, enjoying life and bringing joy to them,” Aldridge said.

Mike Singer, whose father, Leon Singer, lives in the reminiscence unit, spoke about music therapy.

“The music actually brings out the inner self of the individual who has the Alzheimer’s actually while they’re listening to the music,” Singer said. “I’ve seen it work on my father and others. It reaches a part of the brain that stimulates conversation.”

Cherie Johnson, an actress best known for her roles as a child on “Punky Brewster” and “Family Matters,” attends the candle lighting each year because her mother is a supervisor in the reminiscence unit.

KAREN QUINCY LOBERG/THE STAR Michael Singer holds the hand of his father, Leon Singer, 95, after speaking about Alzheimer’s disease at the Sunrise Senior Living candle lighting Sunday night in Westlake Village.

“I grew up in this area and went to Westlake High School,” Johnson said. “I have worked with Alzheimer’s patients for the past 25 years. Alzheimer’s is an epidemic that will touch more of us than HIV or AIDS ever will. Unfortunately, it’s one of those silent epidemics that people don’t talk about. I don’t know if that’s because it hurts or if it’s that we live in denial a lot of the time instead of dealing with the facts. Places like this really ease the pain and make it so much easier.”

Mitchel Sloan, director of development for the California Central Coast chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, called the disease “the health care epidemic of this century.”

“It’s the sixth leading cause of death that doesn’t have a prevention or cure,” Sloan said. “The only thing that keeps you from Alzheimer’s is your age.”

KAREN QUINCY LOBERG/THE STAR Employees and friends of Sunrise Senior Living hold their candles Sunday in honor of residents past and present who have Alzheimer’s disease during a two-hour ceremony in Westlake Village.

Royce Gilder, executive director at Sunrise Senior Living, said the disease is escalating.

“We are fighting a disease that is way ahead of us,” Gilder said. “It’s getting worse before it’s getting better. The more support we can get for research — that’s what it’s all about: trying to find a cure for this disease.”

The Westlake Village facility raised more than $23,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association this year — more than any of the other 300 Sunrise facilities in the U.S.

The Spaeth family attended to see 10-year-old Emily Spaeth get a plaque for raising the most money, $6,000, in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Thousand Oaks. She was inspired by her 89-year-old grandmother Patricia Spaeth, who lives at Sunrise.

“My dad said however much money I was able to raise, he would match,” Emily said.

“We hit up a lot of friends,” said her father, Frank Spaeth.

“I’m very proud of her,” Patricia Spaeth said. “She got up and did this on her own.”

“It’s important to come together for evenings like tonight,” Sloan said. “To make sure to remember those who are with us and those who are no longer with us and to give us hope, because our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s, to find a cure and ultimately a prevention so that they don’t even have to get Alzheimer’s.”

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