A cookie decorating party brought out the kid in everyone Saturday at Carolina House of Chapel Hill near Glen Lennox.
“You’re eating all the product,” Joan Stankins, 85, told Norman Burk. “He’s eating everything.”
Burk, 87, smiled quietly, barely pausing as he nibbled on the sugar cookies that members of Carrboro High School’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Club had baked the night before.
Stankins laughed and returned to decorating her cookie – a Picasso-like mishmash of reindeer antlers, eyes and candy canes. Beside her, fellow residents Ann Lawyer, 83, and Mary Wilson patiently covered their cookies with thick, sweet frosting, placing each sprinkle, chocolate chip and candy just so.
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Other residents, only some of whom have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, were more direct, scooping the frosting from the cups with their fingers and eating it. Some sang or whistled as they worked.
Carrboro High School junior Mackenzie Smith said she got the idea to start the Alzheimer’s Awareness Club after watching her great-grandmother lose her life to the disease. The first time she visited her in the hospital, her grandmother still had some memory of her, Smith said.
“I’m glad I went in that time, because then I came back and she had no clue who I was,” she said. “That’s awful. That’s why I do this, for all the ... seniors in need. (Some) don’t have any family, and that’s really sad.”
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there could be up to 5.1 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease, a chronic condition and the most common cause of dementia among people 65 and older. Another half-million Americans under age 65 also have Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia, the association says.
The disease attacks the brain’s nerve cells, resulting in behavior changes and the loss of memory, thinking and language skills. Art, music and other activities that stimulate the brain can be therapeutic, experts say.
The Carrboro High club, now two years old, has about 40 members who are active at different times of the year, Smith said. They raise money for the annual Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, she said, and visit local retirement communities to spend time with residents suffering from Alzheimer’s. Club members also organize holiday events and fun activities, she said. They’re planning a balloon volleyball team, she said.
Smith’s mother, Lori Smith, is the executive director of business development at Carolina House.
Early morning ice kept many club members at home Saturday, but Mackenzie Smith and her brother Jake moved efficiently around the room, passing out small cups of frosting, decorative candies and cookies, stopping to help residents frost their cookies and lingering to share a moment.
In the country, Wilson said, they would play by digging in the yard or building something if they found a piece of wood.
When she left, Wilson took a special cookie – a face with an elvish smile – with her. That one’s for her husband Gene, the widow said, “to make sure that he knows what we’re doing over here.” She laughed heartily.
While her husband died a few years ago, Wilson, like many Alzheimer’s patients, spoke of the past as if it was the present.
The last time she saw Gene, she said, he was getting the field ready to plant.
“They were out working. I don’t guess it’s (going to be) a good day to work today.”