Alzheimer's patients use shared love of model trains to keep brains active

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A senior center in Crystal, Minnesota, is home to a unique relationship between two friends in their 70s – both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – helping each other with a shared passion for railroads.

“You come out here you run the trains, and it’s like getting lost in a good book, lost in a story,” said Gerry Kramer.

Gerry was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and while he may not have total control over his health, he does have control over his Sandburg Masefield railroad, including scheduling daily runs from Frostbite Falls to Clara City.

“That’s where the conductor drops of the orders,” he explained. “The other conductor picks them up.”

The right-hand man in collecting, building and bringing this model railroad to life is Bruce Erickson. Bruce is several years older than Gerry, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago.

Just a short walk to his garage in the same facility, Bruce also has his own train collection.

“We support each other,” he said. “We talk about the disease. Gerry is in the earlier stage, and I see him going through stuff I used to go through. We talk about it; we’re great friends.”

The doctors and medical professionals have told both of them to keep their brains active and to stay busy as they fight the potentially debilitating disease.

With their model railroads and the changing landscapes, that's not an issue for this pair of friends.

“You have to use your hands - motor skills - and it makes you think. You design things, build them… I’m always looking for ways to improve them," Gerry said.

Gerry and Bruce said they are too busy making the trains run on time to be worried about Alzheimer's.