Simple Gifts

At the beginning of this post, let’s take a listen and a look at Dr. Rudy Tanzi and actor and recording artist Chris Mann at a TEDxNatick meeting where he talks about curing Alzheimer’s Disease with Science, Songs, and Simple Gifts. Alzheimer’s is growing alarmingly as our “lifespan” is rapidly outpacing our “brainspan”.

Let’s face it. In the U.S. only, there are almost 5.5 million Alzheimer’s patients as more than 70 million baby boomers are heading straight toward high-risk ages. So Alzheimer’s Disease alone could easily and singlehandedly crush the U.S. healthcare system completely. Even the GED test today includes health science questions related to Alzheimer’s and online learning platforms like have now included study material about the disease that’s affecting so many Americans and families.

But there’s also some good news. Dozens of our genes related to Alzheimer’s have now been identified, meaning the chances of stopping this terrible disease have never been any greater. Dr. Rudy Tanzi works at Massachusetts General Hospital and is a Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and is world renown for his groundbreaking work and on Alzheimer’s disease.

Now let’s take a closer look at the great story of Amelia and Riley Hartnett. They were only five and eight-years-old respectively when they found a way to contribute to their community. Their grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease. People sometimes forget that this disease impacts entire families, including children. One of the activities they enjoyed with their grandfather was singing “Simple Gifts,” one of his favorite hymns.

One day, after having visited their grandfather in the nursing home where he lived, the sisters went door-to-door to their friends and neighbors, singing some of their grandfather’s favorite songs. The price was a steal at ten cents for one song or two songs for twenty-five cents. To their surprise, they earned $6.52 in tips, which the girls hand-delivered to the local Alzheimer Society in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

“We gave it to them hoping that they could make a cure or some medicine,” remembers Riley who is now 12 and has a better appreciation of the challenges involved. However, the experience taught her the importance of contributing even in small ways. As a result of their giving, Riley and Amelia were invited to celebrate their donation and perform “Simple Gifts” at the “Lieutenant Governor’s Coffee Break” an annual event of the Alzheimer Society.

Joined by His Honour and the Minister of Health at the time, the sisters also sang “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and stole the hearts of everyone present. It was a beautiful moment, made all the more poignant by their grandfather’s death a few weeks earlier. We need to break through the barriers of silence and their small contribution made everyone present realize they all have a reason to care.

“When something touches your heart you want to find a way to give,” explains Valerie Lowe of Climax, Saskatchewan who lost her father to dementia about a decade ago. To honor him, Lowe hosted a tea party at her quilting shop in the small farming community. Her guests enjoyed the hospitality of Lowe and her staff and thanked them by making voluntary donations to the Alzheimer Society just like this small company did with their donation box ”

A disease like Alzheimer’s leaves you feeling so helpless and it affects so many families,” said Lowe. “Hosting this event helped counter that feeling. It felt good to be doing something to contribute.” Next, she plans on gathering a group of quilters together, listen to others speak about their disease, and to make a special gift for the Alzheimer Society, which they can use in their fundraising.

Valerie Lowe’s didn’t realize that her event was very similar to a nation-wide annual fundraiser of the Alzheimer Society called “Coffee Break”. The beauty of “Coffee Break” is that it offers people a simple way to promote awareness for a cause that affects so many Canadians – 1 in 11 Canadian over age 65 have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. .

Alzheimer Coffee Breaks are hosted by volunteers in homes, businesses, corporate offices, church halls, shopping malls – anywhere where coffee can be served or the distinctive Alzheimer Society coffee cup cut-out can be distributed. Participants at these events make a donation to the Alzheimer Society in exchange for a cup of coffee. It’s simple, it’s fun and the money raised stays in the local community or province to help support local programs and services.

Dean and Aline Brush and their son Mathew are restaurateurs from Cornwall, Ontario who have found a unique way to engage a group greatly impacted by Alzheimer’s disease – residents, their families, and staff in nursing and retirement homes. The Brushes are the franchisees of the local Joey’s Only Seafood Restaurant.

Like many of the other franchises, the Brushes support the “Coffee Break” with a promotion in their restaurant, but they also sponsor a friendly competition in the community to promote support for the Alzheimer’s Society and encourage family outings to the restaurant. Judging from the fabulous response to the promotion, people from the retirement and nursing homes are delighted to be included in the Brushes’ simple and fun competition. Each year the winning residents are treated to a celebratory fish and chip dinner.

The Brushes host the luncheon in their restaurant, giving residents a special outing, or they bring Joey’s to the winning nursing home and cook lunch for the residents there. “We always have a great time at that lunch,” says Dean.

Most Alzheimer Coffee Breaks are much simpler events than the one organized by the Brushes. There is even a way for people with little time to spare to contribute to their community by hosting a Coffee Break online at the cyber café. No matter the size, every Coffee Break is important to help people with Alzheimer’s enjoy an active lifestyle. Coffee Break helps fund essential programs and service for people with Alzheimer’s disease, their caregivers and their families.