Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Names ‘Dementia Care Professional of the Year’

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Horticulture Therapist Creates Innovative Program at NYU Langone Medical Center

When Gwenn Fried first began engaging people with Alzheimer’s disease in gardening activities as an intern at a New York hospital, never did she envision what her passion for horticulture would lead to 16 years later. Today, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) announced that Fried is the 2012 Dementia Care Professional of the Year.

Fried of Trenton, NJ has been an employee of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY since 1997, and was recently named manager of the medical center’s Rusk Rehabilitation horticultural therapy services. There, she is credited with creating a weekly horticultural therapy support group for people in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

The award, given annually since 2008 by AFA’s professional membership and training division, Dementia Care Professionals of America (DCPA), recognizes someone “who demonstrates professional excellence in care, compassionate performance that exceeds expectations, and a dedicated commitment to those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.”

Upon receiving the news of the honor, Fried said she was “humbled…and shocked.” “I love every minute of it,” she said of her program, noting that she takes delight in seeing her clients’ eyes light up from the success of their projects.

AFA staff members will officially present Fried with her award at a ceremony on February 7 at 3 p.m. at the Senior Center at St. Peter’s Church in midtown Manhattan.

Fried volunteered to start the horticulture therapy program eight years ago to accommodate a handful of people who were part of an early-stage Alzheimer’s support group at NYU Langone. As their disease progressed and verbal skills waned, they were no longer able to participate in the support group—creating a need to provide camaraderie and stimulation in a different setting.

The gardening program started out with five people, spread by word of mouth, and now includes as many as 20 attendees at times.

It incorporates multi-sensory activities, including smelling lemons, making lemonade and planting seeds in the soil, to help unlock memories, stimulate conversations, and enhance cognitive skills for participants with the brain disorder.    

“The garden group is a non-threatening and safe place which provides comfort and solace to the participants,” Fried said.

In nominating Fried for the award, Nancy Chambers, her predecessor in the Rusk program, noted: “Gwenn has created a unique program for clients with mid- to late-stage dementia that can be replicated in other places. She exudes enthusiasm, positive energy [and] leadership, and has been a significant model for others working with [people with] dementia.”

Chambers added that Fried’s presence and activities continually motivate clients and their caregivers to attend the sessions, despite bad weather.

When Hurricane Sandy disrupted most of Manhattan last fall, the gardening program at Rusk was temporarily relocated to the Senior Center at St. Peter’s Church. As part of Rusk’s transformation and expansion projects, a new garden room is being built at NYU Langone’s Hospital for Joint Diseases in Manhattan, and the program will move there when construction is completed this spring.

Fried also develops horticulture-based wellness programs for senior centers in New York City; is a member of the faculty of Chicago Botanic Garden’s Therapeutic Garden Design

Certificate Program; and consults and lectures internationally on this topic.

Applications for the 2013 Dementia Care Professional of the Year are due September 1.

Dementia Care Professionals of America, a division of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), is a membership organization for dementia care professionals that offers practical training, continuing education and qualification as AFA Dementia Care Providers and AFA Dementia Care Specialists. It has trained about 7,000 professionals, including social workers, nurses, home health aides, physicians and other healthcare professionals. For more information, visit or call 866-232-8484.    

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia, and to their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling and referrals by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line, e-mail, Skype, and live chat; educational materials; a free quarterly magazine for caregivers; and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-232-8484 or visit


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Carol Steinberg
Alzheimer's Foundation of America
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