Students capture memories of Alzheimer's, dementia sufferers

AURORA – When talking with Dan Dillon, it is easy to notice his gentle nature, his kind smile, and aptitude for telling stories. But, the 74-year-old knows there's something wrong, something that has left him a captive of his own mind.

"I have, what do they call that, Alzheimer's," Dillon said. "It's like a forgetful disease."

Dillon is a resident at Brookdale Pinehurst Park, an assisted-living home for people who need memory care.

"Our residents all have some form of dementia or Alzheimer's," Luzelva Rojo, Health and Wellness Director, said. "I think it's easier for us to think that they don't know, but for him to actually say it. Wow, he does know."

Rojo is in charge of caring for Dillon and the dozens of other patients whose life stories are literally being forgotten.

"Our families struggle every day because they see their loved one fading more and more each time," Rojo said.

So, Rojo decided to try something she had never done before. She teamed up with Community College of Aurora Instructor, Rachel Blue Ankney, to create a project called "The Stories of the Forgotten."

"I mean, I've done profile papers in high school, but nothing like this," Mat Romero, student, said.

Rojo brought Dillon and about 20 other residents to meet with Romero and his classmates in the English 121 class at the Community College of Aurora campus. Romero was paired up with Dillon who spent most of his life working in Hollywood as a special effects and sound technician.

Romero says he has to sift through the lucid moments to get information about Dillon's past.

"A couple of times, he was saying that he was working on a movie, and he just got done with it like three weeks ago," Romero said.

Jose Rodriguez is a student who met with Maude Adams, a long-time foster parent. Rodriguez says this experience is eye-opening for students.

"People like me don't really think about people like her," Rodriguez said.

Monse Sanabrea talked with Betty Van Zetten who used to work for the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.

"Maybe this paper will help them remember things they have forgot," Sanabrea said.

Rojo says her residents enjoyed the two campus visits with the students.

"All our residents were smiling, which was worth everything," Rojo said.

She hopes the papers will be meaningful to their loved ones.

"I think that this paper captures, you know, a moment for the families and they'll be able to reflect back on it," Rojo said.

A few weeks later, Dillon's sister Cherie Tippett goes to Brookdale see her brother and hear Romero read the essay for the first time.

"Well, I'm choked up," Tippett said. "It'll mean a lot to us."

Romero reads his essay entitled, "Dan the Sound Man." He talks about the Dillon's childhood growing up in Chicago to the work that he did on movies like "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and the famous television show "Bewitched." Dillon created the iconic "nose twitch" sound that occurs when the main character Samantha used to conjure her magic on the show.

"I really enjoyed the project, getting to know someone that had done so much," Romero said.

Tippett says she enjoyed Romero's paper.

"I thought it was wonderful. I really did," Tippett said. "I thought he captured my brother in a lot of areas. It was heartfelt."

It was memories chronicled forever. Dillon says he is thankful.

"Well, it was wonderful to my heart," Dillon said. "It's a pleasure and honor for me."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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