Newswise — Remember the joy you had when you were a kid and made a snow angel at the first sign of snow each winter? Well, Hilary Van Horn, whose stepdad is suffering from Lewy body dementia, challenges you all to recreate that happiness in an awareness and fundraising campaign for the Penn Memory Center.

The simple task of creating an Earth Angel can be done by laying on the ground in mud, snow, ice, sand, and even doing a kettle bell halo in a gym and moving your arms and legs. Others have created a yoga “angel,” a “pet” angel, and baked an “angel food cake,” all inspired by the simple message that there are angels on Earth doing important work for these patients every day. After you create and post the video online, Van Horn asks that you donate to support the work at the Penn Memory Center, and then challenge your friends to join the movement!

In 2010, Hilary’s stepdad, Ralph, was diagnosed with Trans Global Amnesia (TGA) and was hospitalized at Penn due to a temporary memory loss. He was soon later referred to the Penn Memory Center (PMC) by his neurologist, Michael McGarvey, MD. After an evaluation with PMC Co-Director David Wolk, MD, Ralph was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). A two month hospital stay for a psychotic episode resulted in the diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) in 2016. Hilary’s mom Cheryl recalls it well.

“They took him through the journey,” said Cheryl, whose husband received his Lewy body dementia diagnosis (which Robin Williams was also diagnosed with in 2014) late last year.

In this form of dementia, protein deposits called Lewy bodies develop in nerve cells in the areas of the brain used in thinking, memory, and motor functions. Signs of the condition go beyond memory loss and reasoning, and can include varied levels of confusion and alertness from day to day, balance problems, acting out dreams, hallucinations, and other symptoms.

“So many people will be touched by dementia as the population ages, I never thought I would be, but we live it every day,” Cheryl said. “You see the transition – they’re here one moment and the next moment they’re somewhere else. Sometimes I’m convinced my husband is with angels.”

Setting the campaign into motion, Hilary made a snow angel in 14 inches of snow surrounding her South Jersey home, and promptly challenged her friend in Hawaii, who did an “Earth Angel” at sunrise atop the Mauna Kea volcano. The chain of videos continues today.

“We want to raise awareness for those experiencing dementia, but also for caregivers of those individuals,” Cheryl said. “They give incredibly valuable support to the caregivers as well. It’s hard sometimes and the Memory Center gives an outlet to ask questions and other resources that have been very helpful to me.”

Cheryl recently attended a day-long symposium held by the Memory Center, with workshops, yoga, and other resources for caregivers. “I got to talk to other people who were going through the same thing I’m going through, and I realized I wasn’t alone,” Cheryl said. “It was a whole day of respite for the caregiver – it felt like I was on vacation for a week.”

Supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Penn Memory Center is a resource for those 65 and older looking for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and research opportunities related to age-related progressive memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment. 

“We’re incredibly thankful for the Caliri family’s innovative campaign, welcoming Earth Angels from Philadelphia and across the globe to support our research at the Penn Memory Center,” said David Wolk, MD, co-director of the Penn Memory Center. “Though the basic infrastructure of the center is supported by grants, individuals who help spread the word about our work make such a difference in allowing us to pursue and sustain new and innovative efforts in clinical research, caregiver support, and programming for our patients.”

For more information on how to join in the effort, visit the Penn Memory Center contribution site.

“This effort provides all of us with the opportunity to honor our own Earth Angels with Dementia,” Cheryl said.