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.


Finally — attention focuses on how money woes can signal dementia

October 31, 2010

A story on page one of today’s New York Times explains that money woes can be an early clue to Alzheimer’s. It tells the stories of individuals who stopped paying bills, lost track of bank accounts and lost their money in what turned out to be the early stages of dementia. It also explains how legal, financial and psychological leaders are grappling with how to determine a person’s decision making capacity.

Looking back, I see that my Dad’s demise likely started with making poor financial decisions. He had been a keen business professional in the amusement industry when suddenly he began promoting a multi-level marketing company. I had never questioned my Dad’s judgment before; instead, I questioned my own skepticism. And when things didn’t pan out for him, I found flaws in the company, the market, the economy. Dad wasn’t in his right mind then. We didn’t know it, and he didn’t know it — but now I wonder if, somehow, that multi-level marketing company did…

As Dad degenerated,  it turns out, he kept making donations to some of his favorite charities. Of course, as soon as he wrote one check, he would forget, and when the next request for money came, he’d write another. Even after his wife notified the charities about Dad’s condition, the groups continued to keep him on their mailing lists. I don’t want to believe they preyed upon him, but that’s what it looks like. Think about it: If you are in charge of fundraising, and you are unscrupulous, elderly people who are becoming forgetful can be goldmines.

So, I’m glad that the Alzheimer’s Association and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the New York Times says, met recently “to formulate guidelines on how to deal with clients who have trouble remembering and reasoning, a problem that is not new but is increasing as the population ages.” It’s a dementia issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Read The New York Times story, by Gina Kolata.

Chopping onions is good for the soul

October 17, 2010

Chicken soup, so they say, is good for the soul. My eyes mist up a little every time I make it.

My Dad made a terrific chicken soup five years ago, during what would be his final trip to visit my home in Syracuse. We had no plans for dinner one night, so my Dad took to the kitchen. He used a deli chicken, some chicken broth, drained cans of black beans and tomatoes, celery, potatoes and onion, and some rice and spices. His chicken soup rivaled that of Carrabba’s Italian Grill, (and I LOVE Carrabba’s chicken soup.)

It was amazing, watching Dad turn a few random ingredients into something so tasty. He was always a good cook when he cooked, but he did not cook often. And I didn’t pay close enough attention. In my 20s and 30s, I’d help assemble Thanksgiving or Christmas meals with him, but I only did the tasks he assigned. It wasn’t until I was preparing my own big meals that I gained an appreciation for just how much work it is.

On occasion I purchased cooking-related gifts for Dad. I still have the olive oil spritzer, like one I gave him. I also have some of his recipes — one for roasted corn and black bean salad, mashed potatoes, and this chicken soup. All three require chopped onion. If you’re unfamiliar with that task, let me assure you that there is a trick to getting all the pieces to be uniform in size. A trick that I have yet to master. It’s not for lack of trying. And it’s not for lack of my Dad showing me the trick, which he mastered. So I keep practicing.

Onions, of course, burn my eyes and make them water. But when I’m chopping onion as an ingredient for my Dad’s chicken soup, it’s not the onion that makes me cry.

Those senior moments may not just be ‘old age’

September 16, 2010

I don’t know whether this is good news, or bad, but here’s what I know:

Dementia researchers from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center are saying that “old age” may have nothing to do with why older people become forgetful.

“Our results challenge the concept of normal memory aging and hint at the possibility that these lesions play a role in virtually all late-life memory loss,” study author Robert S. Wilson says in a news release from the journal, Neurology, which published Wilson’s study online Sept. 15. “It appears these brain lesions have a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously thought.”

For the study, 350 Catholic nuns, priests and brothers were given memory tests annually for up to 13 years. Tests included word list recall, naming, verbal, number and reading assessments. After death, the participant’s brains were studied for lesions.

The study found that memory decline tended to be gradual until speeding up in the last four to five years of life. Tangles, Lewy bodies, and stroke were all related to gradual memory decline. Almost no gradual decline was seen in the absence of tangles. Both Lewy bodies and stroke approximately doubled the rate of gradual memory decline. Tangles and Lewy bodies were also related to rapid memory decline but explained only about one third of the effect.

“Understanding how and when these brain lesions affect memory as we age will likely be critical to efforts to develop treatments that delay memory loss in old age,” says Wilson.

The National Institute on Aging helped pay for the study.

It seems to support what’s known as mild cognitive impairment, MCI, sort of a precursor to dementia. People with MCI have memory problems that are not as severe as people with Alzheimer’s, and more of them go on to develop Alzheimer’s than those who do not have MCI.  Here’s the rub: no test can detect MCI. It’s more a diagnosis of exclusion.

“Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a disorder of the brain in which nerve cells involved in one aspect of cognitive processing (thinking abilities) are impaired,” according to the Mayo Clinic, whose neurologists first identified the characteristics of MCI. “Individuals with MCI are able to function reasonably well in everyday activities, such as managing finances and purchasing items at stores without assistance, but have difficulty remembering details of conversations, events and upcoming appointments. Most (but not all) patients with MCI develop a progressive decline in their thinking abilities over time, and Alzheimer’s disease is usually the underlying cause.”

‘Vanishing Point’ memoir in More magazine

June 28, 2010

Roxana Robinson writes lovingly about her mother and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and the impact it has on herself and her family in a memoir called “Vanishing Point” in the July/August 2010 issue of More magazine, (the one with Kyra Sedgwick on the cover.)

“Can a person disappear right before your eyes? Yes, says Roxana Robinson, who watched as illness made her mother a stranger–but never quite erased the woman she so adored,” reads the headline.

I’d share a link to the article, but it does not seem to appear on the More magazine website at

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.

Apple juice found helpful for those with Alzheimer’s disease

June 22, 2010

Behavioral and psychotic symptoms related to dementia seem to improve when people with moderate-to-late stage Alzheimer’s disease regularly drink apple juice.

That’s what researchers from the University of Massachusetts found in a study published in the June 2010 issue of American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

For their study, the researchers assigned 21 individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease to drink a 4-oz glass of apple juice twice a day for one month.

Though caregivers reported reduction in anxiety, agitation and delusion, the individuals with dementia showed no changes in the Dementia Rating Scale.

Previous studies have suggested that apple juice may provide health benefits including reduction of central nervous system oxidative damage, suppression of Alzhiemer’s symptoms, improved cognitive performance and more organized synaptic signaling. Thomas Shea says other researchers have shown similar effects with blueberries. “We have also shown similar effects with purified vitamins and nutriceuticals.” Shea is professor of biological sciences and Director of the Center for Cellular Neurobiology & Neurodegeneration Research at Massachusetts.

Would apple juice be helpful in people with other dementias?

“We saw in mice that apple juice boosted neurotransmitter production, so it might help us all with mood, and the major effect would be seen on those individuals, disease or not, that had behavioral issues,” he says. “However, it is certainly worth a try.”

Shea says he would like to compare apple juice with apple cider in another study because “cider has the potential benefit of being fresher, and less processed.”

Read the article from FoodConsumer.

Read the abstract from the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias.