Sunday, May 6, 2007

Memories sewn into quilt


The nation's first Alzheimer's-related quilt made its Cincinnati debut Saturday at a conference for caregivers and health professionals downtown at the Westin hotel.

Sponsored by the 5-year-old Manhattan-based Alzheimer's Foundation of America, both the conference and the Quilt to Remember are intended to shine a light on the patients and their caregivers, said Eric J. Hall, the group's founder and CEO.

"Our population can't speak for itself, and the caregivers really can't, either, because they're busy 24/7. These quilt panels are to be their voices - the voices that bring the issue to America," Hall said.

Like the AIDS quilt that inspired it, the Quilt to Remember is made of individual panels constructed with items that were dear to the patient. There are butterflies, aprons, photos, hair ornaments and World War II memorabilia, as well as dozens of handprints lovingly traced. Many of the panels carry gut-wrenching handwritten messages stitched onto the back.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, including nearly one in two people aged 85 and older, according to the foundation. In Ohio, an estimated 200,000 people have Alzheimer's disease - a number the foundation predicts will grow to 250,000 by 2025.

The Alzheimer's quilt debuted in New York's Central Park in November 2006. Cincinnati was the first stop in 2007.

Eighteen panels were displayed here, previewing the 100 that will be shown in Chicago next weekend, when the quilt opens a five-city tour.

An additional 230 panels are committed and still in the works. They will be added as the tour progresses. Hall expects the number of panels to continue growing as the quilt gains exposure.

Panels are 4 feet by 4 feet if created by individuals, family or friends. Panels made by organizations such as assisted-living facilities and church groups can be 8 feet by 8 feet

"What we're finding, and what I guess shouldn't surprise me, is that making the panels is actually therapeutic for the family," Hall said. "It gives them a chance to re-live the good and loving times.

"I remember the day the first panel came in to our office. The whole staff gathered around as we unrolled it. It was all wrapped in tissue paper and so carefully packed that I thought, 'If they put that kind of love into packing it, what must have gone into making it?'

"We all got a little bit teary that day."

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