Lafayette seniors living in memory care unit take carousel ride in Nederland

A diminutive woman, an octogenarian at least, perched atop a handcarved cheetah as Nederland‘s Carousel of Happiness took a counterclockwise spin on Friday afternoon, her cataract-clouded eyes open wide and a sly grin gracing her face.

Once the vintage piece of machinery slowed to a standstill and the ragtime music from the Wurlitzer band organ subsided, Karen Klauss posed the question:

“Wilma, do you want to go again?”

Wilma slapped her hands on the cheetah, then paused for several beats.

“Yeah, I want to go again.”

Klauss, vibrant life director at The Peaks at Old Laramie Trail, brought about 10 residents from the Lafayette nursing home‘s memory care unit to Nederland‘s famed dollar-a-ride carousel as a field trip of sorts on Friday afternoon.

The residents are all in various stages of dementia, and although they generally take a scenic drive on Fridays up Boulder Canyon or north to Longmont (and perhaps stop for ice cream), Friday‘s stop in Nederland was a special occasion.

Klauss said many of the residents wouldn‘t remember the two rides on the carousel by the time they climbed back into the bus for the ride home.

But none of that mattered.

“Right now, we are experiencing so much joy just being in the moment,” said Klauss, adding that experiences such as the carousel ride have a therapeutic benefit for residents.

“We are all people and this is the situation they are in,” she said. “We want to make their lives the best we can.”

Carousel operator Tad Miller said that the carousel is set up to be accessible for people with physical disabilities, and it‘s fairly routine for groups such as the one visiting on Friday to come through.

“The whole place is set up to be pretty friendly to people with disabilities,” he said. “We are one of the only carousels that are wheelchair accessible.”

Miller helped several people onto the ride, asked if everyone was ready to have fun and announced a few facts about the antique band organ that provides the soundtrack before throwing the ride into gear.

Wilma Lofgran, left, from The Peaks at Old Laramie Trail in Lafayette, laughs with Stacey Harrison as they ride the handcarved animals at the Carousel of Happiness in Nederland on Friday. ()

Among those taking the ride was Peaks resident Grace Lehman. She asked Miller if the ride had an alligator to sit on, as she is originally from Florida and came to Colorado to be with family.

“The closest we have is a dragon,” Miller said. “But it looks like someone already has it.”

Lehman settled on a swan and, just prior to the ride, she said she was excited because she hadn‘t ridden a carousel since she was a child. She added that the shopping malls in Florida often had carousels, but, unfortunately, they were reserved for children.

“I‘m looking forward to a grown-up ride on the carousel,” she said. “I‘m not a kid any more. But I act it. I like being a child, even if I‘m older than 80.”

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“I think that‘s a wonderful idea,” Klauss said.