A Man Named Gianni

The author of “The Dementia Diary” shares ideas and programs with senior parishioners at two UES churches

| 26 Oct 2021 | 11:51

You want tips on avoiding memory loss? I have got the guy and the church for you.

Yes, you heard right and hold that thought. Gianni Perilli is Italian born, 50 years old, and a devoted New Yorker for the last 18 of those years. He has written several books, the most notable being “The Dementia Diary.” He is a sociologist, and a health care and risk-management expert, who has devoted much of his life to those suffering, and those who live with and love the sufferers. Now, Perilli’s unique skills are being much appreciated at the St. Thomas More Church on East 89th and its parish partner, Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on East 90th.

Pastor Kevin V. Madigan met Perilli a few years ago, and was immediately drawn to his passion, his ideas, and his belief that the churches’ large number of seniors was a place to share those ideas. The pastor put him on staff, gave him an office, and watched parishioners become increasingly responsive to Perilli’s beguiling and devoted personality. Now, “CareGiveCare Programs” are offered most days, including No Chair Yoga, Italian language classes, smartphone assistance, bridge, film screenings, sleep and food advice, and featured speakers.

“Gianni’s programs have two dimensions,” says Madigan. “They offer support for caregivers, but they are also trying to develop a cognitive and healthy lifestyle for our seniors. This was particularly important during lockdown, keeping the activities going online. Gianni is totally dedicated, and this has been his whole life’s work.”

Perilli’s motivation is clear and consistent. “I am just so sad when smart people lose their identity,” he says. Where did this innate sense of empathy come from? “My mother passed down to me Christian values, and for this reason I love to serve others,” he says. “My father passed down to me the sense of ambition. For this reason, I love to work in New York. They didn’t know I would have taken them so seriously. And I probably put too much sentimentalism in my job. “

His parishioners would disagree. “His programs have been absolutely life-saving,” said Sheila Gorman, while recently awaiting a movie viewing/discussion at St. Thomas More. “He has kept me occupied and socialized, he brings in wonderful speakers, and his lessons are all science-based.”

Three Goals

The programs incorporate Perilli’s “Dementia Diary,” a psychoeducational support system, which contains hundreds of suggestions for how to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia. Even with parishioners, Perilli measures how their depression levels have abated.

He focuses on three main goals: To reduce the incidence of tumors, stroke and depression associated with family caregivers over the period of taking care of a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s; to increase a patient’s safety at home; and to reduce health care costs associated with the care of patients.

“Doctors focus on prognosis,” he says, “We have specific suggestions of activities to do regularly to prevent loss of neurons.”

“Even in the Chair Yoga classes, they are about making connections between our neurons down to our toes,” added pleased parishioner Eileen Clemen. All the activities Perilli has created are ultimately about what he calls “triggering conversation and developing a sense of community.”

The parishioners are also thrilled with Perilli’s invitation to an in-church Thanksgiving. “The plan is to welcome over 60 people who prefer company for that day’s dinner,” says Perilli. “It will cost only $10 and will start at 1 p.m. with the traditional Thanksgiving Day Meal. Full vaccination and wearing a mask will be required. We will project a movie and put on some live music.”

Those I spoke with at St. Thomas More were already excited about spending the upcoming holiday with like-minded neighbors. For many of them, prayers have been unexpectedly answered by a man named Gianni.

“My mother passed down to me Christian values, and for this reason I love to serve others. My father passed down to me the sense of ambition. For this reason, I love to work in New York.” Gianni Perilli