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Fun event hopes for a dementia-friendly Long Beach

An event was hosted at St. Cornelius Catholic School on Sunday, Oct. 22, in support of those afflicted with dementia.

Rich Gardner, 57, was the organizer behind it. Gardner has been working with the city of Riverside for the past two years to create a dementia-friendly environment. This gathering was his movement’s launch in Long Beach.

“The agenda is fellowship,” Gardner said. “This whole thing is about having fun.”

The event called for dementia caregivers and their afflicted loved ones to join in an afternoon of support, but most of all enjoyment.

Cutout figures of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and John Wayne faced the tables from each wall. A duo of elderly guitarists played and sang old folk songs. Cake and other treats were on offer, along with resource representatives for residence homes, hospice and senior care services. Organizations such as Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles and Heart of Ida were also present.

Zac Miller, 33, helped host the event and shared his feelings on its significance.

“I’m honored to be able to participate,” Miller said. “They’re all struggling together.”

Though many played a role in volunteerism, Rich Gardner was the glue to this togetherness. The organizer went chair to chair to speak with and comfort his guests, and even offered himself as a dancing partner during the music. He explained how the event benefits both the caregivers and their loved ones, Rich having lost his wife, Debbie, to dementia.

“I think having their loved ones acknowledged is golden,” Gardner said. “Those who haven’t been through it have no idea what this journey is like.”

He shared how serving his late wife exposed him to the sadness many caregivers experience in their daily lives and interactions.

“I thought, what the heck, let’s have a support group,” he said.

Gardner also expressed how he is, in certain ways, lucky. Many caregivers and dementia victims go through these burdens at a very old age, while he still has energy left to give and spark a movement like the one he is growing in Long Beach.

Since beginning his journey, he has worked with city government in Riverside to establish a dementia-friendly city. It is now his goal to do the same in Long Beach. He has been attending city council meetings and promoting his mission with city government.

Gardner emphasized how many symptoms of dementia are under recognized or unnoticed, which leads to struggle for both caregivers and the afflicted.

“This disease is sad, you can’t argue with that,” he said. “[Those afflicted with dementia] don’t function like they used to.”

The next gathering will take place on Dec. 10 at Our Lady of Refuge Church Hall from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Society needs to become more open and accepting to this,” he said. “They’re still here, they’re still people.”


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