In memory of W. Cleveland Smith, Jr.

September 4, 2011

W. Cleveland Smith, Jr., circa 1980, at State Fair of Texas.

Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr., 70 died peacefully holding hands with his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2011. Although fading into the grip of dementia the last three years, he lived a full and happy life.

Cleveland ran amusement parks for a living and was instrumental in the development of Six Flags over Texas. Cleve started with Six Flags Over Texas the first day it opened in 1961 as a ride operator, then ride supervisor.

In 1964 he became the New York World’s Fair General Manager for Rides. During 1966 to 1969 Cleveland was the General Manager and then promoted to Operations Manager for Six Flags Over Georgia.

In 1969 Cleveland was promoted to Executive Vice President and member of the Board of Directors of Six Flags Inc. In 1971 W. Cleveland Smith & Associates was formed which later became Fun Corporation of America. Cleveland also was the Vice President and member of the Board of Directors with Wynne Enterprises, Inc., owned by Angus G. Wynne Jr., the founder of Six Flags, from 1972 to 1982. Over the decades, one of his best friends and mentors was Luther D. Clark.

Cleveland also held management roles at Lion Country Safari and Old Chicago.

In 1982 Cleveland became the General Manager for the Entertainment Area at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. From 1984 to 1989, he was the President of the State Fair of Texas Midway games, novelties and concessions.

As Vice President of Overseas Development for Wet ‘n Wild, Cleveland worked closely with George Millay, the founder of Sea World and Wet’n Wild.

He traveled extensively for work and pleasure, visiting Brazil, Japan, Alaska, Peru, Ecuador & Australia.

In his earlier years, Cleve worked on oil rigs, and as an assistant purchasing agent for Neiman-Marcus wherein he was bonded to drive to homes to deliver clothes, jewelry, shoes for the buyer’s discretion.

Cleve was born in Jacksboro in 1941 because his father, Warner Cleveland Smith insisted on seeing the birth and no hospital in Dallas at that time would allow that. His mother Emma Jean (Powell) Smith was agreeable to that game plan. Growing up in Dallas, Cleveland finished high school in Dallas and studied business administration at the University of Texas Arlington.

He is survived by:

his wife, Sherry Shaw Smith of Plano, Texas;

daughter, April Amber Suriani of Manlius, NY, son-in-law Sammy Suriani, grandsons Nicholas Cleveland and Benjamin Texas and granddaughter Sabrina Shawn;

son,  Trey (Warner Cleveland Smith, III) Smith of Charlotte, NC; daughter-in-law Michelle Smith, grandson Hunter Cleveland and granddaughters Emily Xiangyi, Katherine Mei and Caroline Michelle;

sister, Beverly Hendrickson of Terrell; and several nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Also family to Cleveland were his canine children, Cuervo who died last year, and Tag.

A Celebration of Life Memorial Service honoring Cleveland will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home. On Sept. 18 we will honor Cleveland’s caregivers at Silverado Senior Living of Plano.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Warner Cleveland Smith, Jr. Memorial Bench Fund, through Legacy Texas Bank Plano, 1573 Alma Dr. Plano, Texas 75075. Memorial benches are being created to place near the carousels in the amusement parks that were dear to Cleveland and those innovators of the amusement industry with whom he worked.

About the service at Ted Dickey West Funeral Home.

Watch video scrapbook of Cleveland’s life.


Dementia and hearing loss seem linked, researchers say

February 19, 2011

Dad began losing his hearing long before we recognized any signs of what turned out to be frontotemporal dementia. Now I’m wondering, thanks to recent headlines, whether his hearing loss is related to his dementia.

Dr. Frank Lin, from the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, published a paper saying hearing loss in older adults is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. It might be that dementia is overdiagnosed in people who have hearing loss. Or, people with cognitive impairment may be overdiagnosed as having hearing loss. Lin says it’s possible one underlying neuropathologic process is shared by the two conditions. They could also be causally related, he told MedScape Today, “possibly through exhaustion of cognitive reserve, social isolation, environmental deafferentation, or a combination of these pathways.”

For his study, he worked with 639 people from ages 36 to 90 years, over an almost 12-year period. Fifty-eight of them developed dementia, including 37 cases of Alzheiemer’s disease. He says the risk of developing dementia increased linearly with the severity of baseline hearing loss. His work is published in the Archives of Neurology and concludes by saying, “whether hearing loss is a marker for early-stage dementia or is actually a modifiable risk factor for dementia deserves further study.”

Isn’t that interesting — just the thought that, perhaps, treating/fixing hearing loss could possibly have an impact on the development of dementia?

Turns out that’s not a new idea. Other research, in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, has shown deficits in central auditory speech-processing may be an early manifestation of probable Alzheimer’s disease and may precede the onset of dementia diagnosis by many years.


Pre-mourning for the father dementia stole

February 4, 2011

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and it finally dawned on me why: I’m in mourning. Or, at least anticipatory mourning. For the past several weeks, everything reminds me of my Dad.

I slice cantaloupe, and I remember how he favored melons.  I remember the stories he told of an illicit watermelon patch growing up, one that he tossed seeds into, never tended, but that grew prize-worthy melons every summer growing up in Texas.  Dad loved his watermelon, but also cantaloupes and honeydews.

I glance at the sky in the morning, in spectacular pink, and I remember the “red sky in morning, sailors take warning” ditty Dad planted in our brains as children. I know the day holds a storm. And of course that gets me thinking about watching thunderstorms from the porch, and counting seconds between lightning strikes and thunder booms with my Dad.

I pour wiper fluid into my car, and I remember it was Dad who taught me what I know about cars. He made me change a tire, so I’d know how to in an emergency. He taught me driving; we practiced donuts in shopping mall parking lots. That memory leads to stories he shared of his youth – sanitized, no doubt – about racing around in Corvettes with his sister’s husband.

When I’m particularly melancholy, I look at my children and see my Dad. I hear the words he spoke when each was born. I see him caring for them, joking with them, and those visions become of him caring for me, joking with me.

All of this is pleasant enough. My memories are all good, except… Each of my recollections ends with a jolt: the sweet memory, then the bitter reality. Dad is not gone yet. Frontotemporal dementia stole him but has not yet released him to heaven.

So I’m mourning, but not for his death. I’m mourning for his loss of life.

Sometimes I imagine what I will feel when my father’s soul leaves this earth. I wonder if I will get a phone call, or if I will just know. I wonder if, once he’s gone, my memories will lose their bitter aftertaste. I wonder, without the anticipation, will mourning be able to bring comfort?


Welcome to the DementiAwareness blog

August 28, 2010

In case this is your first time visiting, please allow me to show you around. I am Amber Smith, the health & fitness editor for The Post-Standard in Syracuse. I also manage this blog on my own time.

Here are my two youngest children with my father in July. We got to see him during our trip to Texas (my home) this summer. He was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia more than two years ago and began living in an assisted living facility in October 2008. It’s been an arduous and heart-breaking conclusion to what was, really, a blessed life. My Dad managed amusement parks. He started as a ride operator and worked his way up. Before that, he worked in the oil fields of Texas. And before that, he was a little boy growing up on a farm, squirreling away rodents and reptiles in his underwear drawer.

Anyway, I started this blog as a place to post information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (FTD is just one) along with personal reflections. One of the things I came across was a blogger named Bruce Bane who has the same disease as my father. I have an ever-growing page of definitions. I also have a bunch of online resources on a separate page. You can also find a list of dementia-related blogs, as well as some of the best dementia-related Twitterers.

I try to blog about significant research relating to dementia, and much of it takes place outside of the borders of the United States. (To read my posts, use the drop-down search feature in the right side column of the blog and select “research.”) I also try to call attention to articles about Alzheimer’s and other dementias that appear in major media outlets. You can “friend” DementiAwareness on Facebook, where I promote my posts, or you can sign up for a free email subscription, (again, scroll down in the right side column.) I am also active on Twitter.

Thanks for visiting! And, feel free to leave suggestions or comments below.

Some of my favorite posts:

Amusement parks as a metaphor for life.”

“Contemplations over the loss of a pet.”

“Happy 69th birthday to my Dad.”

“Eighteen months later…”

“Blogger Bruce Bane reminds me of my Dad.”

“Orange prompts pondering over life with dementia.”


Ninety medications in development to treat Alzheimer’s, dementias

July 24, 2010

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association shares some encouraging news with its report on medicines to treat mental illnesses. Ninety drugs are in various phases of research to treat dementias, including one that is designed to remove beta amyloid protein from the brain and prevent or reverse progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

I count 11 drugs in what is called “Phase 3″ trials, the final step toward approval and licensing of a new drug.

So, progress is underway.


More studies showing exercise can help stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s

July 14, 2010

Encouraging research being shared at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Honolulu this week shows that exercise may be a powerful antidote to cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Physical activity has long been related to cognitive decline, through several long-term epidemiological studies, but up until now, published research has not been consistent, and several large studies failed to show an association. Most of the studies followed participants for fewer than six years and/or lacked substantial follow-up. In fact, a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health recently reported that no proof exists for ways of preventing dementia.

Researchers have yearned for a long-term study of people within the age brackets at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, in order to show a true relationship between exercise and cognitive decline. The Framingham Study, a population-based study that has followed participants residing in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948 for cardiovascular risk factors, is one such study, and it is now also tracking cognitive performance.

In work presented in Honolulu, Dr. Zaldy Tan of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, estimated the levels of 24-hour physical activity of more than 1,200 elderly participants from the Framingham Study. They included 742 females, within five years of age 76 in 1986 and 1987, and followed them for the development of dementia. They divided the participants into five groups based on level of physical activity, from lowest (Q1) to highest (Q5).

Over two decades of follow-up, 242 of the women developed dementia, including 193 with Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that participants who performed moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40 percent lower risk of developing any type of dementia. Further, people who reported the lowest levels of physical activity were 45 percent more likely to develop any type of dementia compared to those who reported higher levels of activity.

“This is the first study to follow a large group of individuals for this long a period of time,” Tan says in a news release. “It suggests that lowering the risk for dementia may be one additional benefit of maintaining at least moderate physical activity, even into the eighth decade of life.”


Scientists study jellyfish for ways to preserve cognition in Alzheimer’s and other dementias

July 13, 2010

A biotech company in Madison, Wisconsin believes a protein from a jellyfish (with the scientific name, Aequorea victoria) can improve cognitive function in people with memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Quincy Bioscience representatives are at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease this week in Honolulu, presenting interim data that demonstrates the jellyfish protein improved cognitive testing scores by 14 percent in 60 days compared to placebo in the randomized controlled “Madison Memory Study,” which enrolled adults who had a memory concern. The average age in the study cohort of 35 people was 61 years old.

Why the jellyfish?

Partly because of its simplicity. “If you strip down all of the higher functions of thought from the human brain, you really end up with a very simple nervous system…as simple as the jellyfish,” says the Quincy website. Scientists have been studying the design of the jellyfish to understand how it might protect brain cells. Jellyfish make use of apoaequorin to sequester extra calcium ions, which are thought to be protective against neurodegeneration.

In diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,  calcium-binding proteins decrease and lead to brain cell death, or neurodegeneration. Scientists believe that by managing calcium levels in the cells, they can slow the aging process and preserve some quality of life.


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