USF theater students lift holiday spirit of Alzheimer’s caregivers
The caregivers who attended their long-standing monthly support group at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute Thursday were treated to some much needed holiday respite.
A group of students from the USF School of Theatre and Dance visited and performed several light-hearted holiday songs and a couple of readings. During the theatrical interpretation of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, student actor Joseph Montalto, who played the Grinch, elicited smiles and laughter from the audience with his creative use of chairs that doubled as a sleigh and a chimney.
“It is very stressful to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Eileen Poiley, director of education at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. “This is amplified during the holidays when the extra demands on a caregiver’s time and energy can be overwhelming… The emotional stress is often the hardest – when you see your loved one decline and not be able to participate in all the holiday activities like he or she did in the past.”
The 15 caregivers at Thursday’s support group, facilitated by Poiley, were the spouses or adult children of patients living with Alzheimer’s – some for several years and others for more than a decade.
“Many of them can’t go out and leave their loved ones home alone for something they might like to do, like attending a party or a night at the theatre,” Poiley said. “So, bringing this entertainment to the support group is our holiday gift to them.”
Poiley worked with Amanda Clark, marketing director for the School of Theatre and Dance, to arrange the impromptu performance. Earlier this year, she had collaborated with Clark on a USF production of Body Stories, which included the story of a daughter who flew from New York to Tampa to visit her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease and is cared for at home by a live-in caregiver. Poiley consulted with the cast to help create a realistic portrayal of a family affected by the memory-robbing disease.
Nearly 1 million people in Florida are caregivers to an Alzheimer’s patient, and many report high levels of stress and consequent health complications, the national Alzheimer’s Association says in its annual report.
Poiley has written a tip sheet to help caregivers cope with the holidays: See Enjoying the Holidays: Tips for Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers.
For more information on the caregiver support groups offered by the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, please visit: http://health.usf.edu/byrd/supportgroups.htm
– Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications