Adam Stone will never forget 2004 when, for the first time, he experienced Alzheimer's disease.
Stone's spoken-word ballet, "A Life Unhappening," will be performed at 2:30 p.m. May 13 at Bedell Performance Hall on Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus. Stone based the ballet on personal experience, and it's no coincidence the performance is on Mother's Day.
Stone's mother had been at a residential care center in Illinois for a month. It was then Stone found out she would need around-the-clock care because of complications from Alzheimer's disease, which causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Today, an estimated 5.4 million people have Alzheimer's, and someone develops the disease every 68 seconds. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Strong's mother started showing symptoms of the disease in 2004, he says. In November 2009, she suffered a stroke and went into a coma. He then decided to write his mother's story as a spoken-word ballet, with the dance choreographed to a recorded audio track.
"This is something that really helps connect the disease with the real-life experience. And having the spoken-word aspect involved is special, like poetry with a side of dance and symphony," said Tyson Schoolfield, a member of the Tri-State Advertising and Marketing Professionals who is helping to get the word out about the event. "This is something that has affected me and many of my friends. You could almost pick anyone out of a crowd and find they have been affected. Adam and the Alzheimer's Association are really getting through with unique things like this."
The ballet takes the viewpoints of four characters: Marletta, a woman who suffers from Alzheimer's, her son, Thomas; her granddaughter, Sara-Jo; and a caregiver.
"Not only are you losing someone physically, you're watching somebody stop being who they were," Stone said. "Watching the nurses work together, it was just beautiful, the sort of grace with which they were providing care to this person who was pretty oblivious to it. It was like a ballet."
In an attempt to educate people who have not had experience with Alzheimer's, Stone connected with Stephanie Rohlfs-Young, outreach director of the Alzheimer's Association in St. Louis. Rohlfs-Young said her organization is always looking for ways to increase awareness of the disease.
"We were very excited when Adam presented us with this blending of the arts with the message of the Alzheimer's Association," Rohlfs-Young said. "This is a disease that's, on the whole, misunderstood."
"This increase of awareness may potentially lead to earlier diagnosis," Rohlfs-Young said, "which may significantly change the experience of Alzheimer's for people and their families living with the disease. Now's the time for society to pay attention to this disease."
Alzheimer's has profound implications for both the person who has the disease and that person's family members. Caregivers often suffer great emotional and physical stress, and Stone highlights this experience in the ballet.
"I was always thankful for the person she had been and the mother she had been before the disease," Stone said. "Staying in the right frame of mind was always a challenge, but had to just constantly be thankful for the gifts she'd given me as a child, and was always glad to have a little more time with her."
Tickets for "A Life Unhappening" are $14 to $25, and are available by calling the St. Louis Alzheimer's Association at 800-272-3900, or online at www.alz.org/stl. All proceeds benefit the Alzheimer's Association.
518 S. Fountain St.