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Bryant Park 'Memory Chairs' Honor Loved Ones With Alzheimer's

By Jill Colvin | September 22, 2011 8:24am | Updated on September 22, 2011 8:42am
Writer Lisa Hirsch has dedicated a chair to her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's.
Writer Lisa Hirsch has dedicated a chair to her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — Those who've lost loved ones to Alzheimer's now have a new way to honor them.

The The Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter has teamed up with Bryant Park for a new fundraising initiative that allows residents to dedicate the park’s iconic green chairs to loved ones who’ve suffered from the disease.

The “Memory Chairs,” which will be scattered through the park, feature brass plaques inscribed with personal messages. The chairs are meant to serve as a tribute as well as a means to raise awareness about the prevalence of the disease and the resources available to help families cope.

“This is such an intimate, personal way to really remember someone that was important to you,” said Lou-Ellen Barkan, president and chief executive officer of the Alzheimer’s Association,
New York City Chapter., who has dedicated her own chair to her father, Joseph Greenberg,  who passed away with Alzheimer's in 2001.

“In loving memory of Joseph Greenberg, always present in spirit, always remembered with love,” it reads.

Barkan said her father used to be the picture of health. He was a former minor league baseball star and golfer who fought in World War II. But then things began to change. At first, he began forgetting names, calling all men ‘buddy’ and all women ‘honey’ — even those he didn’t know.

Then Balkan's mother discovered her husband, who'd always been the family bookkeeper, had made a series of serious money mistakes, including donations to fraudulent charities.

“That was the real wake-up,” she said.

For twelve years, she said her father got worse and worse, and her mother poured more and more time and resources into his care.

“It was a really difficult, unfortunate, unpleasant time,” she said, explaining that the association tries to provide the types of tools that she and her mother lacked.

“We try to prevent families from falling into the gaps we did,” she said.

She, her husband, son and daughter were all planning to gather in the park Thursday for a picnic with the chair.

Another early donor, writer Lisa Elian Hirsch, who lives is Sutton Place, dedicated her chair to her mother, Ruth Elian, who just turned 87 and began to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s four years ago.

Hirsch said she knew something was wrong when her mom arrived for a visit to the city on Thanksgiving with a suitcase full of summer clothes. Now she has difficulty remembering almost everything.

When Hirsch first heard about the "Memory Chairs," she said she was immediately drawn to the idea.

“I thought, 'What a cool thing.' Here was something I could do," she said.

“Dedicated to, Ruth Elian, who is my mom and hero. Mom, you inspire me each and every day. I love you," reads the plaque on the chair, which was set to be delivered to Bryant Park Wednesday.

A whopping 1.6 million New Yorkers  — one in five  — are expected to be suffering from Alzheimer's or taking care of someone who is by 2050, Barkan said.

To dedicate a Bryant Park Memory Chair, visit www.alznyc.org/bryantpark or call 646 744 2905. The chairs cost $125. through December 31. Anyone needing assistance with Alzheimer's care can call 1-800-272-3900.