Bench at Six Flags Over Georgia dedicated in W. Cleveland Smith’s memory

June 18, 2012

Cleveland Smith’s family gathered at The Riverview Carousel for the bench dedication with the Six Flags family June 16, 2012, the day Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated 45 years. View more photos by clicking here.

Dad could have told us that The Riverview Carousel at Six Flags Over Georgia is special because it’s one of only three five-across carousels still in existence. He kept up with things like that. The carousel, made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, was built in 1908 and was at Riverview Park in Chicago until that park closed. It has been located at Six Flags Over Georgia since the early 1970s, where the hand-carved horses are in constant rotation for refurbishing, three or four per year. The carousel is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The carousel is special, and it’s in a special park. Dad was one of the earliest general managers of Six Flags Over Georgia. Today at the helm is Melinda Ashcraft, one of Dad’s favorite people. She, too, was working at Six Flags Over Georgia the day it opened 45 years ago. She was assigned to Jean Ribaut’s Adventure riverboat ride. Dad had worked on the similar La Salle’s River Adventure at Six Flags Over Texas.

Physically The Riverview Carousel is located near the center of the park, a bit of a hike up hill. Tall trees are all around. Peek through the branches and you can see roller coaster tracks, antique cars, a children’s ride shaped like hot air balloons. Listen and you hear screams and laughter and the noises of the midway games below. Stand still and feel a breeze.

We included Dad’s beloved Six Flags jacket for the ceremony.

It is perhaps the most peaceful, beautiful spot at Six Flags Over Georgia — maybe at any amusement park anywhere. And that’s where the Cleveland Smith Memorial Bench is now located.

So many of you gave donations to make this customized bench a possibility. Thank you. It is a beautiful bench and should last for decades. It’s the only bench located at the carousel, amid several rocking chairs. We think it will get lots of use. The medallion in the center of the bench says, “Life has its ups and downs. Enjoy the ride” — something Dad may well have said but certainly would agree with — and “W. Cleveland Smith, 1941-2011.”

Dad’s family (pictured above) and his Six Flags family came together on June 16, 2012 for a bench dedication service, on the very day that Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated its 45th anniversary. The park came to life and the front gates opened as we wrapped up a brunch (catered, with love, by Wilma Ashcraft) and rode the carousel with Dad. Yes, “with Dad.” I wasn’t the only one who felt his presence at The Riverview Carousel.

Watch the dedication ceremony in this 19 1/2-minute video.

View more pictures from the dedication ceremony.

Hear what Jeff Foxworthy had to say in this 9-minute video.


Please join me at the Syracuse Memory Walk Oct. 2 to raise money for Alzheimer’s

August 29, 2010

The main fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association is a series of Memory Walks that take place throughout the country. The one in the Syracuse area happens at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at Long Branch Park. I’m honored to be asked to serve as honorary chair.

This 3-mile walk raises money for Alzheimer’s care, support and research right here in Central New York. Please, join my team. It does not cost anything to walk. Of course, walkers are most welcome to make a donation of any amount. (Donate or raise $100, and you earn a 2010 Memory Walk T-shirt.)

Sign up here to join my DementiAwareness team.

You may make also make an online donation–and know that any amount is appreciated.

Donate $5 through Fiverr, and your loved one’s name will appear here, on my blog, in the right hand column under “in honor of…” or “in memory of…”

If you can’t make the Syracuse walk, four other Memory Walks take place in September in the Central New York region, including St. Lawrence, Jefferson-Lewis, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley.


A call for mainstreaming people with Alzheimer’s; ‘what’s the harm in that?’

June 24, 2010

As soon as a person is diagnosed with Alzhiemer’s, friends often disappear–even quite early on when the person is just a bit forgetful.

“They think it might all be a bit too awkward,” Julian Hughes says of the friends.

“But attitudes must change. Those friends can adjust, let the conversation go with the flow, accept the person with dementia may be living within a few minutes of experience, so you may have to repeat your stories. But what’s the harm in that? If they are enjoying it, then it’s still a meaningful experience.”

Hughes is a British psychiatrist who specializes in aging–his academic interest is the notion of personhood–and recently he spoke throughout Australia, calling for mainstreaming of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and for governments to recognize this significant health issue. He also made the point that research funding for Alzheimer’s lags hugely behind other areas, such as cancer. “As the numbers (of diagnosed) rise, funding will need to increase by a factor of six to eight times to keep pace,” Hughes points out.

Dementia is the third-leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease and stroke. About 257,000 Australians have dementia today, and that’s expected to rise to more than a million by 2050.

In America, deaths from Alzheimer’s disease are almost equal to those from diabetes, and both rank below heart disease, cancer, respiratory disorders and accidents. But that’s expected to change in the coming years, as Baby Boomers begin hitting age 65. Today, 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease; that number will climb to 13.5 million by 2050, says a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, which says the costs of care will inevitably rise, too, from $172 million today to more than $1 trillion by 2050.

Read the story in The Australian.

Read my previous post about the rising cost of Alzheimer’s.


Finding a link between PTSD and dementia raises the question of why

June 18, 2010

Male military veterans with PTSD were found to have a nearly 2-fold-higher risk of developing dementia, compared to those without post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that is highly prevalent because of combat. Results of a study into this link are published in this month’s Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study involved 181,093 veterans 55 years or older without dementia from 1997 through 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, researchers discovered 17 percent of the men developed dementia, according to the abstract by Dr. Kristine Yaffe and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. They presented their work last year in Vienna at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Mechanisms linking these important disorders need to be identified with the hope of finding ways to reduce the increased risk of dementia associated with PTSD,” they write. Some theories: that PTSD contributes to the cause of dementia, that chronic stress plays a role, or that stress damages the hippocampus or cause alterations in neurotransmitter and hormone levels that could precipitate dementia.

Finding a link between PTSD and dementia was not entirely surprising. “We already know that traumatic brain injury and certainly chronic stress increase the risk of cognitive decline and what this paper refers to as ‘accelerated aging,’ which may in turn lead to early dementia. So it makes sense that PTSD would increase the risk for dementia in the long run,” Maria C. Carrillo, a senior director for the Alzheimer’s Association, told Medscape.

Read the Medscape article.

Read the abstract from the Archives of General Psychiatry.


New York’s new ‘gold alert’ is like ‘Amber alert’ for adults with dementia

June 17, 2010

New York has a new “gold alert” alert system for vulnerable and elderly adults, with passage by the Senate of legislation sponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida.)

“Too many lives have been lost as a result of adults with cognitive impairment wandering from home,” the senator says in a news release. “The Gold Alert puts their safety, and the peace of mind of their families, at the forefront.”

Searching for lost adults with dementia is nothing like searching for lost children.

The legislation builds on the existing statewide Amber Alert system used by law enforcement to alert the public to missing children.

The Alzheimer’s Association says more than 60 percent of people with dementia will wander away from home at some point. Studies have shown that 50 percent of those who are not found within 24 hours are at serious risk for injury or death.

In order to prepare local officers for gold alerts, the new program will develop training for law enforcement that helps investigators identify and manage cognitively disabled adults. In addition it creates a toll-free 24-hour hotline that residents can use to report a missing loved one.

Read about the legislation, which included other quality of life measures for seniors.

Read Valesky’s news release.


Locating genes for clues to Alzheimer’s risk, cause, diagnosis

June 15, 2010

Neuroscientists have zeroed in on some target genes that may be tied to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and they’ve shown what abnormalities appear on brain scans of people with these genetic variations.

Both bits of scientific progress are incremental steps toward understanding what causes the disease that afflicts more than 5 millon Americans. The study, lead by researchers in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., England and Wales, appears in this month’s Archives of Neurology.

“The drought of genetic findings in Alzheimer’s disease has lasted a long time,” write scientists based in London and Wales in an editorial accompanying the Archives study. “These findings, and the genome-wide studies that presaged them, mark a new period of optimism for those of us who study the etiologies of complex diseases of the nervous system.”

The study explains the association researchers made between genetic loci that are related to Alzheimer’s disease and neuorimaging measures that are related to disease risk. (These measures include the volume of the hippocampus, amygdala and other brain structures.) They identify B1N1 and CNTN5 as additional specific locations of genetic variants on chromosomes, but say their findings warrant further study.

Just one genetic variant, known as APOE, has been shown to influence Alzheiemer’s disease risk and age at onset, lead authors Drs. Alessandro Biffi and Christopher Anderson write in their background information.

Study participants included 168 people with probable Alzheimer’s, 357 people with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s, and 215 people who were cognitively normal. “Our results indicate that APOE and other previously validated loci for Alzheimer’s disease affect clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and neuroimaging measures associated with the disease,” they write.

Will that bring us closer to genetic tests for Alzheimer’s?

Somewhat, John Hardy, of the University College London Institute of Neurology, says in an email, “but I think this genetic determinism argument is oversold, frankly.

“About 5 percent of the population are at high risk. About 30 percent of the population are at a moderate risk, and about 65 percent are at lower risk. These numbers are little changed by the new data. And, this is not really so useful for genetic testing.”

Read the study in the Archives of Neurology.

The National Institute on Aging’s fact sheet on Alzheimer’s disease genetics.


A curious study of Agatha Christie and Alzheimer’s — and how our writings may one day be used for diagnosis

June 4, 2010

The language of people with Alzheimer’s disease includes significantly more indefinite words and repetitions than the language of healthy people of similar age and level of education.

So, an English professor at the University of Toronto, Ian Lancashire, analyzed the writing of British mystery writer Agatha Christie.

Previously, the works of British novelist Iris Murdoch were analyzed for signs of the Alzheimer’s disease that was confirmed after her death. Science Blog reported in 2004 that “while the structure and grammar of Murdoch’s writing remained roughly consistent throughout her career, her vocabulary had dwindled and her language simplified in her very last novel.”

Christie was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She continued to write in her final years, though some people believed she suffered from dementia.

Lancashire says her 73rd book, “Elephants Can Remember” is universally dismissed by critics as being full of errors and poorly plotted. The main character is a female novelist who struggles with memory loss while trying to solve a crime that happened in the past.

The professor told National Public Radio that when he read the book, he felt Christie was sensing what was happening to her, and that she kept writing “struck me as heroic.”

His study involved feeding the text of 16 of her novels into a computer program that analyzed the vocabulary for the frequency of different words and the number of different words in each novel. “The richness of the vocabulary of Christie’s novels declines with her age at composition. The three novels that she wrote in her 80s, (Nemesis, Elephants, and Postern of Fate,) have a smaller vocabulary than any of the analyzed works written by her between ages 28 to 63,” he writes.

Christie was 81 when she wrote the Elephants novel. Her use spiked of what Lancashire called indefinite words–“thing,” “anything,” “something,” “nothing.” At the same time, the number of different words Christie used dropped by 20 percent. “That is astounding,” Lancashire told NPR. “That is one-fifth of her vocabulary lost.”

Most of us don’t have large collections of writing done over the course of our lives. But Lancashire points out in his conclusion that “this will begin to change as more individuals begin to keep, if only by inertia, a lifetime archive of e-mail, blogs, professional documents, and the like.

“While the diversity of topics and genres in such an archive brings methodological problems to the analysis … we can nonetheless foresee the possibility of automated textual analysis as a part of the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and similar dementias.”

Lancashire’s paper, “Vocabulary Changes in Agatha Christie’s Mysteries as an Indication of Dementia: A Case Study.

The National Public Radio report.