The founding of the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association in Tortola, BVI, is about the power of one person to make a difference. It started at a Rotary Club meeting in 2013 when a fellow Rotarian confided in Edna Williams, “I have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

He told her how hard it was to find support and resources. Edna felt compassion for her friend and others in his situation. As a trained social services worker, human resources consultant, and woman of action, she went to work to remedy the situation. The results: a vibrant Association recognized by Alzheimer’s Disease International. The Association and its many volunteers serve as advocates for people who are living with dementia and their friends and families.

We were honored to spend time with Edna and to share our presentation with a group of family and professional care partners, social workers, and community and spiritual leaders.  As we talked about the strength of music to keep us connected, Dawn, the daughter of Edna’s Rotarian colleague, the man who had inspired the founding of the Association, stepped forward to tell us her own story. 

For several years, her father had been listless and withdrawn, seldom showing interest in anything. She mourned his father’s dynamic personality and tried many things to lift his spirits and pique his interest. Then she came upon a favorite song of his from years back, a lively tune with a Latin beat. 

“When I played that song for him,” she told us, “he came to life. His eyes brightened and he began to mouth, then sing the words. He leaned forward in his chair, wanting to get up and move. It was such a meaningful transformation. The music connected with him and that helped him connect with us.”

Her touching story was a reminder that arts and creativity can go beyond the rational mind and the spoken word and awaken our hearts and spirits. 

As we shared ideas for staying connected with each other, regardless of our abilities, our own hearts and spirits were expanded by our time with Edna and her group. It’s wonderful to live in a place of breathtaking beauty. It’s even greater to live in a community where people reach out to help and support their neighbors.  

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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We knew that Raymond Jessurun was an amazing leader, organizer, and dementia advocate from our previous work with him in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. But we had no idea what a powerhouse performer he was until recently, when we presented with him at the island’s White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation.
On our way to the event, Raymond told us, “We have a mixture of people coming together, people from all over the world, people of varying abilities. We want to invite joy into their lives. We want everyone to connect and have fun together.” 
Ron and I loved the idea and focused on music and laughter as a common pathway. When we arrived at the care center, which is managed by the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation, the  community area was filled with light: the windows opened to the temperate breeze and lush outdoors. Indoors, in a large and cheerful room, people gathered in a semi-circle. Some had lived in Philipsburg all their lives. Others had relocated from other islands or countries, including Holland, Curaçao, St. Kitts, and Guyana.
Raymond opened our session by telling everyone, “I want you to teach Deborah and Ron something about yourselves and about our country.”
We all shared specific songs that reminded us of our families. Raymond jazzed us up by sliding into the center of the circle with a rousing a cappella rendition of  Come on Let’s Twist Again. After a few bars, people were dancing in their seats. We kept the movement going as we conducted When the Saints Come Marching In, first in a stately tempo, then fast. We talked about the times of the day we liked to sing. Several of the care staff said they liked to sing throughout the day. One woman enjoyed singing in the afternoons. Another sang a poignant favorite of hers, about how she longed for someone to hold at night. She received a heartfelt round of applause.
As part of our interaction about music and movement, we showed a video of Drum Safari engaging everyone in percussive activity during one of our KC Memory Cafes. We ended our session by giggling our way through some Laughter Yoga exercises, including drinking a delicious, no-cal, laughter milkshake.
As a final treat, everyone serenaded us with a traditional national song, O Sweet Saint Maarten Land. (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41capjzf7iQ) The ending stanza captures a taste of this beautiful country, but fails to mention its amazing people: 
“Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice,
Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice.”

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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