He forgets his wife’s name, but always remembers this

An East Tennessee man in his twilight years is reconnecting with a hobby from his youth, hoping that it might just help him live even longer.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 5:57 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 8:08 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - When you’re running out of time you start to think seriously about how to spend it. At almost 80 years old, Jerry Sears knows exactly what he wants to do with the time he has left, before it slips his mind.

“You’ve told me your name,” Sears told WVLT News Anchor Amanda Hara, “and I’ve just lost it and I hate that but it’s just part of something I didn’t ask for. Now, I’ve got to make the best of it.”

Jerry has Alzheimer’s disease.

“What other things do you find yourself forgetting,” asked Hara.

“I forget people’s names that I should know. Like my wife’s name,” answered Jerry.

His wife’s name escapes him but the lifelong cowboy said other memories aren’t so quick to fade. Jerry grew up cattle ranching, riding in rodeos and showing Shetland ponies.

“Yes! Getting bucked off a lot of them. The main answer to that is get right on ‘em again. Get up and get on ‘em,” said Jerry.

That’s exactly why he showed up at Shangri-La Therapeutic Academy of Riding (STAR) to do; to get back on.

“Dear God I want to get back on a horse. I want to spend a day riding a horse. That’s what I look forward to,” said Jerry.

Twice a month Jerry gets his wish at STAR, East Tennessee’s therapeutic riding academy that uses horses to help veterans, people with special needs, and memory care patients like Jerry.

“For people who have had horse experience, they get to be themselves again. It’s almost like they’re home. That’s what a lot of them will tell me, ‘I’m home. This is where I’m supposed to be. This is where my heart is,’” explained Megan Borges, Program Coordinator at STAR.

STAR’s Reflections program offers memory care patients the opportunity to interact with horses, care for them and groom them.

Because Jerry spent his whole life on a horse, he’s the only participant allowed to ride. He still needs gentle reminders and instructors work with Jerry on learning and retaining new skills.

Jerry said the simple act of sitting in the saddle relieves his depression, a symptom of Alzheimer’s that Borges said can accelerate the progression of the disease.

“We have learned that Alzheimer’s can cause depression. It’s something that is a symptom but can also be very detrimental to the progression of the disorder. The horse calming a person down by touch or sounds they make, that can help with the depression and lead to more emotional well being,” explained Borges.

“I love horses. Sometimes I make myself believe riding a horse is therapy to me. It’s really helping,” said Jerry.

It’s been decades since Jerry last saddled up for a horse show. At STAR’s annual competition, riders showed the judges what they learned and Jerry remembered what it felt like to compete and win. He took home a second place ribbon.

“It was just absolutely great! It felt like I was back in the saddle again,” said Jerry.

At STAR, Jerry said he feels less like he’s running out of time and more like he’s making the most of it.

“Horses you don’t forget,” asked Hara. “No, no. Never. I remember,” responded Jerry. “When I’m here, I’m at home. It’s where I want to be. This is my life that I’ve got left.”

Each lesson in the Reflections program costs $5 dollars, a price subsidized with help from the Pat Summitt Foundation.