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Home2017 NewsOcean City Beach Trip

Drew Sterner, walks with his dad, Gene, on the Boardwalk.

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Contact Maureen Riley

Trip to the beach
sparks memories in
dementia patients

Excerpted from The Intelligencer article by Marion Callahan
Photos by Art Gentile

Odette Swan smiles in delight to be on the beach. The trip helped Swan recapture memories of her youth.The wheelchair only made it so far along Ocean City’s sandy beach, but Odette Swan inhaled the salty air, fixed her gaze on the ocean and stood up, insisting she’d walk to get closer.

Guided by granddaughter Samantha Jonsson, Swan inched her way toward the ocean, stopping at one point to raise her arms and, as if she were conducting a symphony, moved them to the rhythm of the crashing waves. Then the 89-year-old woman – who sometimes forgets her name, how to get dressed and even what country she’s in – couldn’t stop recalling her life.

Odette Swan is helped onto the beach by granddaughter Samantha Jonsson and nurse Laura Watson.It was as if a window was opened and memories were flooding in. She talked of her childhood, growing up in a small coastal town in France and how her father was a fisherman. She talked of the days she spent collecting shells to make necklaces to sell to tourists. And she recalled swimming in the ocean, likening it to a feeling of flying.

“If I were young, I’d jump in and swim as far as I could,” said Swan, as her voice cracked with emotion. She then dipped her hand in a plastic cup Jonsson filled with sand and ocean water, rubbing the mixture on her hands like it was lotion. It was as close as she would get to the ocean, but it was enough.

Drew Sterner keeps a hand on the shoulder of his father, Gene, as he orders ice cream.The journey that recent day to Ocean City, New Jersey, revived Swan’s memories in ways that brought Jonsson to tears. But she knew that within hours, those memories would fade like the setting sun. Like about a dozen others from Doylestown Township’s Pine Run Retirement Community on the bus trip that day, Swan suffers from dementia – a condition that affects more than 5.5 million Americans today.