Former teacher battling Alzheimer’s finds happiness during return to classroom

New program at New Albany nursing home helps patients with dementia

CLARKSVILLE, Ind. (WAVE) - If you could go back to re-live a day in your life or take that time to try something completely new and different, what would you do?

The “Live A Dream” program at a New Albany nursing home facility is giving its residents the chance to do just that. That program is giving a southern Indiana woman dealing with Alzheimer’s the chance to get back into a classroom long after retiring.

Carolyn Kemp, 77, lives at Autumn Woods Health Campus in New Albany. Staff there said she often has a hard time remembering what she’s done earlier in the day or recognizing emotions. When she stepped back into a classroom Wednesday that all changed when she began talking to the students there.

Ms. Mullin’s first-grade class stays busy as students work on reading. But still, making time for a quick break when a guest reader stops by to read “Green Eggs and Ham.”

The head of the class is a familiar spot for Carolyn Kemp. While the story she reads to students is make-believe, it brings up real memories for Kemp, from days spent teaching at Parkwood Elementary School in Clarksville. She taught for 32 years, though Kemp counts the time a little differently.

"Had to be forever because I love it," Kemp said.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s makes many daily tasks difficult for Kemp. But there’s a quick return to a classroom routine.

“And I had no idea she was going to be back in her element. And, ah it just leaves you speechless,” said Bobbie Jo Adams, Autumn Woods Health Campus Life Enrichment Director.

“I was very surprised,” said Bonnie Biggs, a first-grade teacher at Clarksville Elementary School.

Even after teaching at CES for 29 years, Kemp is a familiar sight for Biggs."How are you! I know you probably don’t remember me but I was in your class in 1973 and you had your little girl that year," Biggs said, walking over to Kemp in the classroom."Can I give you a hug?” she asked. “Oh my gosh, I just remember you.”

Her former teacher pulls her in for a kiss on the cheek and a few minutes conversation, catching up about memories from her classroom in the 1970’s. It’s after that visit that Biggs said she realized how much her former teacher influenced her in her own classroom years later.

“I think back to the way she taught us and the way I teach now, and a lot of it’s the same,” Biggs said.

Coloring in pumpkins surrounded by students, it’s clear Kemp’s love for teaching hasn’t dulled over the years though her memories of this day might.

“We plan on printing out all the photos and putting it in a memory book so she can relive this day, over and over,” Adams said.

Her gratitude at coming back to class shining brightly in every student’s face.

“And I’m so glad that I had a chance to come in and see you today," Kemp said, speaking with the students. “I love you each and every one of you, I love you love you love you.”

With each step of her visit, Kemp recalls more and her speech coming through stronger, more determined.

“Oh, I love it, I don’t want to go home,” Kemp said. “I don’t want to go home, just stay here forever. It was a wonderful day. I’ll never forget it."

Autumn Woods staff say with Alzheimer’s, it’s possible Carolyn may not remember the classroom visit just hours after it happened, or even later. They’ll be creating a memory book for her to remember her trip back to class. And she’ll get the chance to make memories with these students again in December. Her trip to Clarksville was so successful, they’ve already invited her back.

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