The United Methodist Church is leading in the fight against Alzheimer's as a partner with us in the Faith United Against Alzheimer's Coalition. Many congregations are doing important work supporting those with Alzheimer's and their families, including First United Methodist Church of Winter Park, Florida. Thank you to Director Peggy Bargmann for this piece on the Brain Fitness Club. ~ Trish
Tom Gerrity was a man of many talents. He could rebuild car engines, do electrical wiring, plumbing, woodworking, and play the piano. It was difficult to understand how this intelligent, educated engineer could go from designing mechanical systems for skyscrapers in New York City, including Trump Tower and the IBM Building, to being unable to add a simple list of numbers. Yet this was the reality that Tom Gerrity faced back in 1996. To compensate for the challenges he faced at work, Tom bought a small tape recorder to take to meetings, a spell checker (before spell check!), and even called his wife to have her add up numbers for him.
After two years of medical testing, the devastating diagnosis was early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Forced to retire at age 55, Tom at first kept busy doing chores around the house and driving their teenage daughter to her activities. Once their daughter left for college, Tom was no longer driving and Nancy continued working. At the end of her day Tom would greet her by saying, “I’m bored being at home with just the dog.” Research into available programs for Tom in the Orlando, Florida area quickly revealed a major gap in community resources for those with early onset dementia. Nancy recognized that what Tom needed was a setting where he could socialize, and be safely engaged cognitively and physically. The decision was made that since no program existed, that they needed to create one. It took two years of talking with various local leaders and organizations with several stops and starts before Nancy got a big break. She met the wife of the senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park, who encouraged Nancy to approach the church about a program for people with early onset dementia. The church welcomed the program with open arms, providing start-up funding and space to conduct a pilot program.
In collaboration with the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and the University of Central Florida’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the Brain Fitness Club opened in August 2007 and continues today. The program serves individuals with early dementia who are aware of their cognitive challenges and want to participate in activities that stimulate the mind and body in a social setting. The group meets twice weekly for four hours each day. The program is divided into three 14-week semesters in alignment with the University’s academic calendar. Each class is limited to 16 members who can then register for subsequent semesters, remaining in the program as long as the program meets their needs. Brain Fitness Club is a success-based program and is meant to highlight the strengths and capabilities of the members.
Because of the positive response and high demand, there are now two Brain Fitness Club classes at the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park. And an additional program to serve individuals in Orlando was recently started at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando. It is inspiring to see the powerful way these two congregations are serving their communities to promote health and wellness.
Members, family care partners and local health professionals have given such positive feedback and encouragement that the Brain Fitness Club secured a grant to develop a manual and coaching model for other congregations. Our goal is to help people like Tom find a place where they can be with others experiencing similar challenges and receive programming that stimulates the mind and body to promote brain health. To lean more please email me at BrainFitnessClub@gmail.com.