When the Saints come marching in!

Happy 9th birthday: (from l.) Drop in member Peter Shaw, Stone Mayor Cllr Mike Williamson, Drop-in founder Stella Winsor, Mayoral Consort Cllr Margaret Goodall, Club President Cllr Joyce Farnham, Drop-in member Barry Tams
Happy 9th birthday: (from l.) Drop in member Peter Shaw, Stone Mayor Cllr Mike Williamson, Drop-in founder Stella Winsor, Mayoral Consort Cllr Margaret Goodall, Club President Cllr Joyce Farnham, Drop-in member Barry Tams

It was quite a celebration – even though it wasn’t a round birthday. Over 50 people, a mixture of dementia sufferers and their carers, dropped in to the October 8th weekly Thursday morning meetup of Stone Alzheimers Drop-in at the Christchurch Centre to celebrate its 9th anniversary.

Proceedings got underway with a presentation of a £114 cheque by Diane Gillen, Captain of Stone Golf Club Ladies’ Section, who raised this sum in their September raffle.

Next, Stone mayor Cllr Mike Williamson, his consort Margaret Goodall and Club President Cllr Joyce Farnham helped founder and organiser Stella Winsor cut the birthday cake, whose nine candles were blown out by dementia sufferers Peter Shaw and Barry Tams.

Things soon got off to a swing when the Jon Baddelely music duo struck up with ‘When the Saints Come Marching In’. The familiar tune got feet tapping, fingers drumming, and the blank faces of many sufferers came back to life.

A carer promptly took to the floor, followed in no time at all by volunteers, sufferers and the mayoral couple themselves. All this at 11 o’clock in the morning – it doesn’t take much to get this crowd going!

It’s all a far cry from the modest drop-in which Stella, who is still a sprightly 84, founded in October 2006 for the benefit of her late husband.

“Denis had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I had nowhere to take him,” she told the Gazette. “I hired this room, brought some cards and games along and wondered who else would turn up.”

Two of those early joiners were sisters Stella and Elaine whose mother had dementia.

“Stella and Elaine been coming ever since,” said Stella, “even though their mother has since passed away.”

The Drop-in’s programme is now much more ambitious, with regular outside entertainers alternating with home-grown programmes of gentle exercises, games and stories.

“Singing always comes into somewhere,” chuckles Stella, recalling how one sufferer, an elderly nun, offered to start their first impromptu sing-song. “To my surprise, it wasn’t a hymn, but the drinking song ‘I remember Glasgie’. She insisted on us singing in a broad Scottish accent!”

Both experience and research have shown that dementia patients respond to music and rhythm long after the loss of their other faculties. The Drop-in, which is self-funding through donations and costs nothing to join, also organises two annual outings and a pantomime visit.

“The Drop-in is such a boon for us carers, too” sufferer Barry’s wife Freda confided. “We can chat to other carers, compare notes and get useful tips. The Club is so friendly and welcoming, I don’t know what we’d do without it!”

There’ll be an even bigger Birthday Bash for the Stone Alzheimer’s Drop-in in October 2016. With the UK’s ageing population continuing to rise, one thing is certain – an even greater demand for its services in the future.

For more information about Stone Alzheimer’s Drop-in phone Stella on 01785 603707.