AlzAuthors Co-Founder Reports on Dementia Caregiver Cruise & Conference

By Marianne Sciucco

When the ship sailed out of sunny Fort Lauderdale to a soundtrack of island-inspired music and frosty Margaritas in the Sea View Bar it seemed like any other cruise. But this was not your typical Caribbean cruise. On board were a collection of individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, their caregivers, and a host of specialists coming together to share valuable insights, information, and inspiration. And to have fun too, making special memories and new friends.

The inaugural Connecting Circles of Care and Building Bridges of Hope Dementia Cruise and Conference hosted by Dementia Cruise Producer Lisa Chirico was a 7-day empowering retreat on board Holland America’s MS Oosterdam April 6-13. I was fortunate to be included in a distinguished group of professionals dedicated to working with dementia families, including aging and Alzheimer’s expert Loretta Anderson, financial gerontologist Daniel Hutcherson, film maker Daphne Glover Ferrier, caregiving expert and consultant Christy Turner, security expert Gene Saunders, and writer-photographer Peter Maeck. Our keynote speaker was Jeff Borghoff, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 51 in 2016.

Peter and Danny
Daniel Hutcherson & Peter Maeck
Jeff Borghoff







Each presentation was well-attended despite the typical distractions of a cruise – food, entertainment, the views, bingo, and more – and many helpful discussions took place. For instance, Daniel Hutcherson’s “The Six Domains of Financial Exploitation: Protecting Your Money and Your Independence” drew vigorous discussion about choosing trustworthy financial planners to help with decision-making in this important area. And the preview of a raw cut of Daphne Glover Ferrier’s documentary-in-progress “SPENT: The Hidden Cost of Dementia” was received with warmth and a few tears. Peter Maeck gave a riveting recitation – from memory – of his poem “Remembrance of Things Present,” which he wrote to honor his beloved father who succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Dementia Sherpa Christy Turner gave an empowering presentation for caregivers to become “the Best Darn Dementia Care Partner You Can Be (Even When You’re Feeling Worn Out or Frustrated).”

And history was made with Gene Saunders and Project Lifesaver, who wanted to see if their GPS location devices for those who wander would work on a ship. They put one of their devices on Jeff Borghoff and told him to get lost. Twenty-eight minutes later they found Jeff hanging out in The Crow’s Nest on deck 10. The experiment was a success and ground-breaking: the Project Lifesaver device can make cruising a safer option for those who worry their loved one will wander and get lost on the ship.

My presentation, “The Story of AlzAuthors: How Three Daughters of Dementia Started a Global Community of Writers Sharing their Dementia Stories,” sparked discussion on the importance of telling our own stories to help reduce the stigma associated with these diseases. I also helped launch our “Inspiration Collection,” a personally selected library of books chosen for the special needs of this cruise’s attendees. The books made a stunning display and worked as a great conversation starter. Each attendee was happy to take home at least one book and a copy of our first anthology Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving Stories, courtesy of the Kline Center for Dementia Support and Grandparenting Research.

Inspiration COllection

A new program kicked off the day each morning (see agenda), leaving the rest of the day free to explore the ship or the ports we visited, which included Key West, Grand Turk Island, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic, and the cruise line’s own private island Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas (easily the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen.)

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

My family and I ventured into Key West to explore the Ernest Hemingway House (note: the 55 polydactyl cats in residence are direct ancestors of Hemingway’s best loved pets) and climbed the 88 steps of the Key West Lighthouse to get a bird’s eye view of the island. We also took tours of each island we visited and had plenty of beach time. In Amber Cove we were able to take advantage of the beautiful pool, water slides, and zip lines. There was excellent shopping and the gorgeous Sky Bar with incredible views of the mountainous island and good food.

Grand turk SHip
The beach at Grand Turk Island
Grand turk Island
Shops on Grand Turk Island

Prior to the cruise, when I mentioned to friends and family that I was attending a dementia conference on a cruise ship I was often greeted with a skeptical glance. I, too, was unsure as to how all of this would work. As a nurse I’m familiar with the needs of those with dementia. Would their needs be met on a cruise ship? How would they respond to the change in their environment? In their daily routines? Would they be overwhelmed? Would their caregivers be stressed out and anxious? I saw none of that. In fact, the attendees, all of whom were in early stages of the disease, were relaxed and eager to learn, eager to make friends. There was plenty of downtime during the day to relax, refresh, or attend activities. And the evenings were filled with delicious dinners and camaraderie for our party, followed by entertainment, including live shows and music. Attendees could choose to join the fun or retreat to their cozy cabins or one of the restful spaces on board.

Margo & Ron Ryan and their selections from the Inspiration Collection

Do I recommend going on a dementia cruise and conference? Absolutely! A cruise is a wonderful vacation. Everything is done for you. The only worries each day are what to eat and how to entertain yourself. It’s also very cost effective. The conference adds a new dimension with an opportunity to meet others also on the dementia journey and to connect with professionals you may not have the time or access to in “real life.”

I’m looking forward to the next dementia cruise and conference. If you’re intrigued find out more on the official website.

About the Author

Marianne Sciucco, AuthorMarianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. Her debut novel Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller; IndieReader Approved; a BookWorks featured book; and a Library Journal Self-e Selection. Marianne has written a prequel to Blue Hydrangeas. Christmas at Blue Hydrangeas is a slice of life story from before Sara’s Alzheimer’s. She is currently working on another prequel, A Wedding at Blue Hydrangeas, also pre-Alzheimer’s. Marianne is a co-founder and admin of AlzAuthors. A native Bostonian, she lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and, when not writing or teaching classes in independent publishing, works as a campus nurse at a community college.

Connect with Marianne Sciucco








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3 Responses

  1. My wife and I were excited and somewhat anxious when we embarked on this cruise, not knowing exactly what to expect. Traveling with a loved one with dementia presents certain challenges, particularly when facing new living environments, however temporary, and encountering total strangers, no matter how well-intentioned. Almost immediately after entering the opening reception, we knew we had made the right decision to go. Everything you describe about the presentations and ports is spot on, but for us, the highlight was meeting and making new friends who share many of the challenges, frustrations, and yes, the joys of living with and caring for someone victimized by dementia. We can’t wait for next year’s cruise.

    1. Thanks, Steve. It was lovely to meet you and Debbie. I’m glad the cruise met your expectations. You sure looked like you were having a good time!

  2. Being a part of this event was one of the best weeks of my life. It was such a joy to meet and get to spend time with the people in our group. I was (and still am!) so inspired. Can’t hardly wait til next year!

    Speaking of inspired, the AlzAuthors Inspiration Collection is a must-have for dementia professionals. I know the collection is curated for family care partners, but there’s a LOT of wisdom in those books for anyone in dementia world.

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