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Alzheimer’s and Ballet: 80-Year Old Sandra Diskin Will Meet You at the Barre

Had Chelsea Place not been the kind of memory care community whose staff takes an authentic interest in the life history of each resident, Sandra Diskin's graceful hands and pointed toes might have gone unnoticed, during her physical therapy sessions. But, notice they did. So, instead of hand cycling and leg lifts, Sandra, an 80-year old memory care resident, now helps conduct a ballet barre class for other residents, like her, who are attracted to the graceful movements of ballet. In a recent interview with the Denver Post, Ms. Diskin explained her love of ballet, “I have been a dancer my entire life, I like to think. Ever since I was a child.”

And, as it turns out, Sandra is, indeed, a classically trained ballerina and modern dancer, according to Jenni Dill, Life Engagement Director for Chelsea Place Memory Care. After college, Sandra even joined a dance troupe in New York. It was there that she met her husband, in a touring company of Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun.” What a great story!

The truth is that there are many residents in memory care communities who, like Sandra, have rich, vibrant past lives that, in too many cases, go untapped. That may be because there is an ongoing perception that those struggling with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia have lost the ability to remember anything at all. Yet, the more we learn about Alzheimer’s and dementia, the more we are finding that many individuals with these disabilities can, in fact, be re-connected to things they enjoyed doing in the past.

For residents at Chelsea Place, these discoveries are not uncommon. “It’s really important to us to find out something personal that connects to each person when they’re doing their treatment sessions,” said Jenni. “For Sandy, they could take her in the therapy office and have her do the hand cycle or do leg lifts, but none of that really appealed to her. However, she’ll do barre class all day long, and happily.”

Sandra’s barre sessions have gotten attention from other residents. And, according to Jenni Dill, many now prefer Sandy’s class to the more traditional therapy techniques. “It draws everyone together, they get excited about trying something new because they love to learn, especially about other people in their community. They know we’re honoring each other’s history and celebrating them together.”

Kudos to the entire team at Chelsea Place and their dedication to treating each resident as the unique individuals they are. By continuing to tap into each individual’s passions and talents from their past, they are able to help residents and their families better connect to each other and spend happier moments together.

You can learn more about the programs and the people at Chelsea Place Memory care here. Or, visit Anthem Memory Care’s community pages to find a community near you.