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Volunteers get involved with elderly at Alz's Place

Alligator Writer, Michele Rollen

Published in the Alligator April 11, 2001.

UF student Kevin Rohan quizzes a group of people with Alzheimer's disease in a bright, comfortable living room. Who stole from the rich and gave to the poor? Everybody knows the answer. The second question is a little harder.

Who was Robin Hood's love? The group-full of elderly people, a mix of white, black, female and male-is stumped for a minute. Their faces show they used to know the answer, but now it has faded to the recesses of their mind.

Finally, one woman answers, "Marianne Maid." Everyone smiles and looks relieved. The fun was in trying to remember the answer.

Rohan, a health and human performance senior, volunteers in Alz's Place, just off Northwest 83rd Street, near Santa Fe Community College. Here, Rohan and the volunteers work with the elderly who have memory disorders, including Alzheimer's.

But people such as Rohan are few in number at the day care center.

"A lot of people are frightened of Alzheimer's disease. Especially if you're older, you think, 'oh, I don't want to be around that," said Kendra Mckee, recreation therapist at Alz's Place, also known as Elder Care of Alachua County.

"We're always looking for more people. This is a nice place to sort of ease into it because our folks are very high functioning."

Alz's Place encourages participation in organized activities designed to challenge the mind. The emphasis is always on success, using scheduled projects including doll therapy, arts, crafts and bowling.

McKee encourages people of all ages to become involved in working with the elderly who have Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

"These folks relate well to everybody, but they relate extremely well to five to nine to 14, if they're real mature, age children," she said. "It's a real nice place to ease into learning about the disease process."

Volunteers' training takes up to six hours.

"A lot of that is done on their own with a manual that I send them home with to read... and with the client," McKee said. "They're getting the contact along with the training."

Lynda Everitt, chapter manager for the North Central Florida Alzheimer's Association, said there are many opportunities for volunteers.

The Alzheimer's Association is involved in many fund-raising events including Memory Walk, which will be held in October.

The committee is looking for more volunteers to help with organization, set up and break down for the event.

But more importantly, students who volunteer often find something they enjoy can help people so much, Everitt said.

"They have more energy, and if they can grasp it younger, and get more knowledgeable about it, it's just going to be amazing," she said.

"If we can match the volunteer with what they really enjoy doing, then nothing else matters. If we can figure out what they enjoy, then we can utilize that to the maximum, then it's a win for us and a win for them."