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Alzheimer’s Association, Atlanta Braves team up for folks with dementia

Atlanta seniors living with dementia were recently treated to a feast of the senses designed to prompt their memories of America’s favorite pastime.

There was the smooth feel and smell of a leather glove, the bright red stitching of a Rawlings, the salty taste of popcorn and roasted peanuts, and the sights and sounds of a crowd cheering and announcers going wild in a video-recording of Hank Aaron smacking his record-breaking homer.

With that, the national Alzheimer’s Association kicked off its newest engagement program, Major League Memories. Through a partnership with Major League Baseball, local teams will bring baseball memorabilia to a residential or community care setting for people living with early stage Alzheimer’s or related dementias. Retired players will share their stories and lead discussions about favorite games, nostalgia and other ballpark memories.

“This is a perfect fit,” said Andrew Christy, a specialist in strategic partnerships and events for the Alzheimer’s Association’s national office in Chicago. “There’s nostalgia, baseball memories, childhood memories. So many different connections coming together. There’s the family aspect of it too.”

The Atlanta Braves partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter for the first Major League Memories engagement at Belmont Village Senior Living in Buckhead. Former Braves pitcher and Marietta resident Jim Nash was the guest speaker.

The two organizations hosted another engagement on June 20 at Woodland Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care in Smyrna, with former Braves infielder Marty Perez as the speaker.

Nash told the Belmont Village group how he was recruited out of Sprayberry High School in the 1960s, and recalled players and events from his seven years in the major leagues. His playing time included a three-year stint with the Braves in the early ’70s, when he was a teammate of Phil Niekro … and Aaron.

“A wonderful man and one heck of a ballplayer,” Nash said of Aaron to the nod of his audience, many of whom said they remembered seeing him play.

For now, Major League Memories is a pilot program only offered this summer in Atlanta and Los Angeles through partnerships with the Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers will host seven events in Los Angeles. Plans are to eventually expand the program nationwide and have all major league teams participate, each partnering with their Alzheimer’s Association state chapter.

DEC. 5, 2015 — Former Braves pitcher Jim Nash signs hats for military families during the Atlanta Braves’ Military Basebowl event in Atlanta. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL (For the AJC)

The Alzheimer’s Association has long teamed up with Major League Baseball on other events to raise awareness and help educate the public about dementia, Christy said. Each team hosts a special Alzheimer’s day at the park during the season.

Christy said this particular program emerged from discussions between the Alzheimer’s Association and the Dodgers organization. Both were interested in finding more opportunities to work together to benefit those living with dementia. When the Braves organization heard about Major League Memories, they were eager to be a partner, Christy said.

While having a special day at the ballpark is good, many people with Alzheimer’s can’t participate because they’re no longer able to go to a game. Major League Memories is a way to bring the baseball community to them, Christy said.

It wasn’t difficult to raise the baseball interest at Belmont Village. The staff and many of the residents were decked out in either Braves attire or the color scheme. The Atlanta Braves decorated the room with baseball memorabilia, brought in gloves, baskets of baseballs, balloons and stadium-inspired snacks. Everyone received a foam Tomahawk, and Nash signed photos and baseballs to give away.

Several residents said they were longtime Braves fans, and recalled childhood memories of the game. They knew some names of current players, as well as stars from the past.

Nash entertained the group with stories about past teammates and former roommates such as “Catfish” Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. He said he started playing baseball at age 9 because a kid across the street had a cool-looking Little League uniform and he wanted one too.

After a game of baseball trivia — where prizes were given away — Nash led participants in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”


ALZHEIMER’S AWARENESS DAY

The Atlanta Braves and the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter will host an Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at SunTrust Park on Aug. 10. There will be postgame fireworks.

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