Two weeks after James Creasey lost his job as VP at a Denver based publishing firm, his dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
“At that point I made a commitment to spend two out of every ten weeks with him,” Creasey says, which was no mean feat since it required him to fly to England every couple of months. Creasey grew up twenty miles south of London, and though he’s lived in the States for the past 35 years, he’s lost neither his British accent, nor his wry English wit.
On a visit home in June of ‘08, he found his father confused, isolated, and barely able to construct a coherent sentence. He decided to take his folks on a summer vacation to the Southwest of England. “We stayed in a little hotel on the cliffs of Cornwall,” he says.
To my delight, I discovered it had the most perfectly kept croquet lawn.
Creasey had been introduced to croquet at his company’s summer picnics in Denver. He loved the game, and the comraderie it afforded, so much that he joined the Denver Croquet Club. “I had two summers of experience by the time I saw my folks,” he says. “I told my Mum, ‘You’re off deck for the next two weeks. Go shopping. Get your hair done. I’m playing croquet with Dad.’”
So for the rest of the vacation, father and son could be seen out on the lawn every morning quietly playing croquet together. Then something quite unexpected happened. “A whole bunch of other guests from the hotel started playing with us,” Creasey says. “Suddenly my dad wasn’t isolated anymore. People who couldn’t carry on a conversation with him could at least play croquet with him. And even though his condition continued to deteriorate, over time and with a little guidance, he could still play a cracking game of croquet.”
Creasey returned to Denver and immediately called Linda Mitchell, President of the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. He described to her what had happened with his dad, and suggested that they collaborate on a croquet program for people and families living with dementia. “Let’s see if we can put a few more smiles on a few more faces,” he told her. Mitchell was intrigued.
In February of 2009, Creasey founded Jiminy Wicket, a Colorado based non-profit the goal of which is to introduce the game to long-term care facilities and senior centers as a means of raising their quality of care for Alzheimer’s patients. “Sixty-four percent of Americans in long-term care get one visit per year,” Creasey says. “They’re tranquilized with anti-psychotic drugs and parked in front of a TV set all day. We don’t need to abandon these people. There is another way.”
People with Alzheimer’s live entirely in the moment. My feeling is, why not make it a pleasant moment?
Creasey likes to enumerate the many reasons why croquet is the ideal sport for people suffering from dementia. “For one thing,” he says, “it’s simple. Unlike golf, which utilizes identical white balls, each of the four balls in a croquet set is a different color. This makes them easier to identify. For another, leaning on the mallet helps with balance. For a third, the grass on a croquet lawn is absolutely flat, so the ball goes in a straight line. It’s low cost, high benefit, and inter-generational.”
Creasey’s ideas are beginning to catch on. He’s utilized his entrepreneurial expertise to forge alliances between the US Croquet Association and the US Alzheimer’s Association, and between the World Croquet Federation and Alzheimer’s Disease International. In recognition of his efforts, Governor Hickenlooper last fall issued a proclamation designating September 21st as “Jiminy Wicket Day.”