Lori La Bey, founder of a Minnesota-based organization called Alzheimer's Speaks, maintains an online community in which patients and their caregivers "meet" and discuss common challenges.
Now she plans to bring them and others together on a weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise in November.
The Dementia Friendly Symposium & Cruise will feature chats in which Alzheimer's patients discuss how they live with the disease and what strategies they use to focus on what they want to do rather than on what they can no longer do.
Other on-board programs include morning meditations; Memory Cafes, in which folks make social connections on a range of subjects; music therapy sessions; and speakers. And there's free time for excursions too.
"The whole cruise is about … getting back into the space of your personal relationships, finding joy within the relationships," La Bey said. "We expect lots of laughing and sharing, and purging of emotions."
La Bey sums up her advocacy as seeking to shift dementia care "from crisis to comfort."
She knows firsthand how stressful life can be for Alzheimer's patients and those who care for them. Her mother had the disease for 30 years, and her father suffered from a brain tumor that compromised his abilities. Though her parents were ill, she remembered taking a cruise with them and her siblings, and the good memories created on the trip.
"The whole pitch with dementia is it's doom and gloom," she said. "My mom's disease is the biggest gift I'll ever get in my life." It taught her to find joy and learn to laugh again rather than be stuck in what she calls the fears-and-tears mode, which keeps people trapped in the past or with a dark outlook for the future.
The cruise is appropriate for those diagnosed with early to mid-dementia and their caregivers (family members or professionals); families and friends of loved ones with dementia; and professionals and advocates who work on dementia issues.
It sails aboard Holland America's ms Nieuw Amsterdam and leaves Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Nov. 11, stopping at Nassau, Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and the private island Half Moon Cay.
Prices start at $1,389 per person, based on double occupancy, for an inside cabin. Gratuities, airfare and insurance are extra. Reservations must be made exclusively through Kathy Shoaf, (219) 608-2002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org