Mock wedding stirs memories for Alzheimer's patients

June 21, 1991|By Jessamy Brown

In a poignant attempt to bring back forgotten pasts, the staff and volunteers at the Keswick Adult Day Care Center in Baltimore staged a mock wedding ceremony yesterday to help people with Alzheimer's disease tap into their long-term memories.

The wedding, complete with a lunch, reception and multitiered wedding cake, was part of a treatment for the disease known as "reminiscent therapy."

Alzheimer's can cause memory loss, confusion and disorientation, and settings like yesterday's mock wedding or hearing once-familiar music can help stimulate the memory, said Carol Jackson, who does therapeutic recreation at the center.

Social events also can encourage patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia to share their experiences, she said.

trying to make them recall old times. The goal is to try to make them feel good about themselves and to laugh," said Ms. Jackson, who had proposed the mock wedding.

The Keswick center provides 48 patients with daytime nursing care. It enables older people with health problems to remain with families rather than enter nursing homes.

Margaret Sterling, 90, was chosen to play the bride because she was the only one who fit into thegown that was donated by a center volunteer, said Ruth Yingling, who coordinates the center's volunteer program.

The former ballerina danced with guests and the wedding party and sang along with the band. Ms. Sterling said she chose Stanley Sussman, 55, to play the groom because he was the best dancer in the group.

The reception had many traditional elements. The bride tossed her bouquet over her head, and the couple cut their cake and fed each other pieces.

Then Ms. Sterling lifted her dress hem and the bridegroom slowly and carefully removed her garter, something she says her real husband hadn't done at their wedding.

"He was too bashful," she recalled. "I guess I just took it off myself."

Most of these patients rarely get to attend weddings, either because they are physically unable to or because their families don't bring them along, Ms. Jackson said. "They really enjoy finding out what people do at weddings nowadays."

Ms. Sterling's daughter, Patricia Jabine of Baltimore, said she never thought she'd see her mother in a wedding gown.

"I enjoyed watching my mother have a good time," she said. "It's wonderful for her,at her age, that she's so vivacious."

The patients spent two weeks preparing for yesterday's festivities. They talked about what weddings mean and shared stories about their own ceremonies, using old photos to jog their memories, said Ms. Yingling.

They also made party decorations, and many women had their hair done and put on makeup for the ceremony.

The wedding event was particularly important for some patients, whose first wedding may not have been as elaborate, Ms. Jackson said.

"A lot of people got married during wartime and didn't have money for a reception or a dress," she said.

Lester Pinkerton, who volunteers at the center two days each week, wrote the wedding vows and performed the ceremony. "I looked out at the people and I felt a little sad. They were so happy. It moved me," he said.

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