Keep on Dancing


4 min read

Keep on Dancing


HigherPath Celebrations Caregivers and Family

Ever since she was a young woman, Sherry Choppa has been an artist. A painter, a ballet dancer, an art teacher—across a variety of disciplines, art has always been an essential part of who she is. It’s also part of how Sherry’s daughter, Kitty Downhour, knew the time had come to move her mother into assisted living.

“When she was home, she would not do any art,” Kitty remembers. “I knew she was getting depressed.”

Sherry had been diagnosed with dementia, and it was progressing to the point where she struggled to feed and care for herself at home. Kitty spent three or four months looking at a variety of senior living facilities, but the moment she walked into Bickford of Spotsylvania, Virginia, “it just felt right,” Kitty says. Although Kitty knew that the move to Bickford would be best for her mom, it still wasn’t an easy proposition.

“When she came in and did a tour, she was very, very worried that her mom would flat out refuse to move to Bickford,” recalls Tamika Woolfolk, family advocate at Spotsylvania. “There were a lot of tears.”

Yet when the time came to make the move, Sherry’s reaction was just the opposite. “It was a beautiful transition,” Tamika says. “She fell in love with the staff and she didn’t even have one bad day.”

Along the way, Sherry has also astounded caregivers with her ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. Her first major setback came about two years ago, when she fell and broke her hip—which all too often triggers the start of a downward spiral for seniors.

“We were afraid that she wasn’t going to recover because she’s so tiny,” Tamika says, for while Sherry’s spirit is larger than life her frame has always been under 100 pounds. With specialized attention from the branch’s onsite physical and occupational therapy team, Sherry did recover—at least physically. “We noticed that she never made it back to baseline,” Tamika says. “We could see her getting overwhelmed with keeping her apartment nice and tidy.”

At Kitty’s request, Sherry moved to memory care, at around the same time as a few of her lady friends from assisted living. “It was a hoot back there,” Tamika recalls. “She’s the life of the party.” True to her nature, Sherry shone the brightest whenever something creative was on the agenda. She’d get up and dance for musical performances, adorned her room and the surrounding hallways with her artwork, and would spend hours trying on hats, gloves and jewelry in the mirror.

Then came the next hurdle: Sherry fell again, breaking the same hip as before. Even more devastating, just a few weeks following surgery, Sherry broke it again while still in rehab from the initial operation. “We really did not think that she was coming back,” Tamika says. Kitty and the Bickford family prepared for the worst.

Amazingly, at age 88, Sherry defied the odds and rallied once more. “My mom, she pops right back,” Kitty says. “She just keeps going.” Once again she graduated from rehab and returned to Bickford, where she became a regular feature of the branch’s HigherPath meetings. Sherry’s physical and occupational therapists collaborated with Tamika, the branch activities coordinator and her day-to-day caregivers to find out what would keep her happy and focused during therapy.

“They didn’t give up on her,” Tamika says. “They came up with new and creative ways to keep her engaged in her therapy.”

They found any way they could to incorporate art into Sherry’s therapy: Tying bows on her walker and decorating it with Christmas lights, holding an instrument in one hand at a musical performance while steadying herself with the other, painting while standing up. Within just a few months, Sherry is walking independently once more and enjoying the activities she loves most. “She’s walking really fast with her walker and I’m like, ‘Oh gosh, could you slow down?” Kitty says. “She’s strong willed.”

Perhaps best of all, Sherry is dancing again.

“My advice to Kitty was, ‘Your mom is a spitfire. Don’t lose hope,” Tamika says. “She didn’t, and Ms. Choppa is back at home just as vibrant as if she’d never broken her hip.”

Contemplating the next chapter in your loved one’s story? Click here to learn more about Bickford Senior Living and to find a branch near you.