Students in the eighth-grade class at Loyola Blakefield School, a Catholic all-boys’ school in Towson, held a prom on Sunday afternoon, April 23, for local senior citizens, including those with memory loss.
The idea for “A Walk Down Memory Lane” prom was developed by the students after they attended an Alzheimer’s Association program that explained how social isolation contributes to cognitive decline in older adults, according to Renee Johnson with the association’s Greater Maryland Chapter. The students also learned about dementia behaviors so they can interact with people in the early-stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Johnson said.
More than 100 seniors and their caregivers enjoyed lunch, music and prizes at Wheeler Hall on the Loyola Blakefield campus. The event was sponsored by Avila Home Care, GBMC, LifeBridge Health, Gilcrest and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Area residents, family members from the Loyola community, and residents from several senior living communities - Blakehurst, Charter Senior Living and Trinity House in Towson, and Cottages at Perry Hall, among them.
Professional caregivers from Avila offered to give caregivers a break and were there to assist guests who were dropped off, but most caregivers like Jennifer Hales of Reisterstown stayed for the party.
Hales brought her mother, Sue Hoke, 76, who lives at Springwell Senior Living in Baltimore and has dementia. “When I heard about the prom, I knew I had to bring Mom,” Hales said. They were a constant pair on the dance floor, Johnson said.
Gretchen Maneval, a Loyola parent who organized the event, said one resident came from the Weinberg Apartments in Pikesville. “Miss Jeannette,” as she called her, organized her own ride, arrived an hour early and was the last to leave, Maneval said.
Maneval came up with the idea from her days as a student at Towson High School in late 80s-early 90s, when they did a senior citizens prom. Manevel works at Avila and asked for the company’s support. With her son, Sebastian Haber, 14, who is in the class, and his friends, they hand-delivered invitations with a drawing done by her 10-year-old son, Spencer Haber.
A few classmates also escorted Sebastian as he made his “promposal” to his grandmother, Manevel’s mother Kathy Dickinson, 79, at her Anneslie home a week before the big dance. Manevel’s mother, stepfather and in-laws attended the prom.
Mothers and daughters, grandsons and grandmothers, and even a couple of great-grandsons and great-grandmas got out on the dance floor. Manevel said there were several seniors in their 90s who attended.
“The seniors were so overjoyed to be celebrated and honored, and made to feel special,” Manevel said. “Many said it had been quite a while since they’d been in a gathering like that. One gentleman said, ‘You made my day, my week, my whole year.”
Guests submitted songs from their youth in advance for the DJ’s playlist. Among their favorites were “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by The Platters, “Rockin’ Robin” by Bobby Day, and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn.
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The music evoked happy times and wonderful memories, even for a few with memory loss who sang along with the songs, Manevel said. “They did the conga line – whether in a walker, wheelchair or in their seats – and moved their hands to ‘YMCA,’” she said.
One guest, “David,” was rolled into the prom in his wheelchair by Sebastian. Manevel said “David” could barely lift his head. Later, she saw Sebastian get down at the man’s eye level to talk to him and later, they had their prom picture together.
“I saw him sitting by himself, and I just wanted to make him happy and feel special,” Sebastian said.
The students also got something out of the event, Maneval said. The prom provided an opportunity for the youth to interact with the older generations, which has been limited because of the pandemic, and they learned how their actions can make a difference in the lives of others.
“The connection is so important for both generations,” Maneval said. “The boys want to learn and the seniors want to share.”
The prom also helped some of the youth who are usually shy to break out of their shells and become more engaging, Maneval said.
“This is the first formal dance for the boys who can now say they took a senior to the prom,” Johnson said.