Having finished explaining a simple tap dance on Saturday, Che Pemberton leads Tortola Lions Club President Daphodil Sampson in the steps at the Noel Lloyd Positive Action Movement Park. The music came and went, but Mr. Pemberton kept a beat with his feet, successfully raising the heart rates of whoever chose to join him. (Photo: RUSHTON SKINNER)

As the sounds of Frank Sinatra rode the heat waves rising from the Noel Lloyd Positive Action Movement Park on Saturday, Che Pemberton click-clacked his tap shoes, encouraging anyone brave enough to join in his swaying dance moves.

A few fair-goers rose to the occasion, following his instructions as closely as possible. Others couldn’t resist bumping a knee or snapping their fingers to the beat.

The dance lessons were part of the Dementia Risk Reduction Health Fair, an annual community event organised by the Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association and Tortola’s civic clubs as part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Between the booths staffed by local leaders, attendees had the opportunity to reduce their risk of dementia while having fun. VIAA Founding Director Edna Williams emceed at various times throughout the morning and afternoon, reminding attendees why they were there and what was to come.

“There are 12 modifiable risk factors that can reduce an individual’s risk for dementia,” Ms. Williams said. “Some of those modifiable risks are low education, diabetes, obesity, social and physical inactivity, not keeping your brain active, stress, and it goes on and on.”

Stages of life

For every stage of life that dementia can affect, there was a tent at the fair dedicated to educating attendees about lifestyle choices that either cause dementia or stave it off.

“Keeping your brain active reduces your chances of having dementia,” Shanna-Kaye James said at the Community Mental Health booth.

Among informational pamphlets about risky habits like smoking, a brain game made of laminated paper challenged attendees to test themselves in front of an audience. Like learning a language, exercising your brain can be practised on a daily basis, according to Deputy Cabinet Secretary Vicki Samuel-Lettsome.

“It takes practice,” said Ms. Samuel-Lettsome, who oversaw a Spanish language booth. “You may see a word that you may have learned in school: It brings back that memory.”

Committing just two words per day to memory, she said, can help keep your grey matter active.

Virgin Islands Alzheimer’s Association Founding Director Edna Williams, right,
greets Rotarian and dance instructor Che Pemberton Saturday prior to his public
dance lesson at the Noel Lloyd Positive Action Movement Park. (Photo: RUSHTON SKINNER)
Providing comfort

Rosetta Crandall, of Sivam Home Health Care, explained that dementia affects different people in different ways. For sufferers, some days are worse than others. When loved ones are lucid, she said, “you want them to feel like they’re a part of the community.” During the better days, maintaining independence is important to people experiencing dementia, Ms. Crandall added. Items like easy-to-grip utensils and magnifying glasses can make a big difference.

On darker days, she said, the inability to remember can cause confusion and frustration. Physical activities like yoga can also assist people afflicted with dementia.

“We know that persons who have dementia get easily frustrated when they can’t remember certain things,” said BVI Health Services Authority Registrar Dr. Calisa Cruikshank, a founder of the yoga group The Sangha BVI. “Yoga can help them to be a bit more calm and relaxed.”

Because dementia typically affects the elderly, more difficult poses might be impossible for those with the disease. But Dr. Cruikshank recommends what she called corporate yoga — essentially, yoga you can do at the office, sitting down. Such exercises, she said, can focus one’s attention on the present, placing less importance on recalling the past.

What to do?

Lions Club President Daphodil Sampson offered advice for the families of people showing signs of dementia.

“The first thing would be to seek medical attention and to be properly evaluated and diagnosed by a physician,” she said. “Once that is sorted out, joining an association like Alzheimer’s Association is key, because there’s a community there that understands what they’re going through.”

Anyone who missed out on the fair will have another opportunity to support the fight against dementia and participate in other activities that promote a healthy mind.

On Saturday, The Power of Music on the Brain concert will be held from 2-5 p.m. at Walters Recreation Park in Virgin Gorda.