The Hukilau and Alzheimer’s

by Melinda Franklin

A guitarist begins to play.  The sing-along starts. I’m at the Tutta Bella in Bellevue enjoying the Bellevue Alzheimer’s Café event sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association.  It’s my favorite event on the fourth Tuesday of every month.  I love their pizza, beet salad and gelato, but even more, I love the community I’m with.

Although this community experiences challenges from memory loss, they enjoy others who are living with the same challenges, as well as their care partners, friends and family. These two hours together are special. There is no judgment – only acceptance, understanding and a good time.

Alz. Cafe_KOMO
Alzheimer’s Cafes cater to families living with dementia, KOMO News 
At the café participants seem to forget about their problems. “Regulars” arrive and wave across the room to others.  Newcomers receive big welcomes and quickly find themselves enjoying the camaraderie. They socialize, enjoy the companionship, entertainment, good food and fun.

Today, a caregiver seated by her husband is singing loudly, beautifully along with the guitarist.  Her husband, who rarely talks, sits quietly and savors his pizza.  He is not singing.  In fact by looking at him you wouldn’t know there was any singing.  By the third song I coax his wife to join the guitar player at the front of the room.  She joyfully selects more songs and harmonizes in full voice.

Her husband stops eating and turns to watch her.  After a few minutes he stands and shuffles to her side.  Slowly and deliberately he puts his arm around his wife, smiles and looks at her longingly. He stands by her so full of love and pride for his wife until the singing is over. His wife helps him back to his chair and he resumes eating his pizza in silence as if it never happened.  My eyes fill with tears.  What a beautiful moment.

We all look forward to the entertainment each month. I’ve even found my “two left feet” and hips swaying to the Hukilau.  Many non-dancers profess, “I never ever dance.” Guess who, with just a little coaxing, ends up in the front of the room learning the hula from the Hawaiian dancers who just performed for us?  The fun is contagious.  I love watching those who swear they never sing begin to clap their hands and tap their feet. I know it won’t take long before they start singing the oldies with us.

Hugs abound as our time together ends.  We make plans to meet next month and we exit with smiles and full hearts.  I head home knowing there are still good things in life for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I am already looking forward to next month’s Alzheimer’s Café.

For a list of Alzheimer’s Cafes in the greater Seattle Area click here.

Community partners for The Bellevue Alzheimer’s Café are the Bellevue YMCA and the Washington State Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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Melinda Franklin volunteers at the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter and the Greenwood Senior Center in Early Stage Memory Loss programs.


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