Traditions Carry Forward from Different Eras and Generations

This holiday season will be different for Don and Phyllis Rigney. In January 2018 they made the difficult decision to find a residential memory care facility for Phyllis Rigney’s 85-year-old mother Ida. Regular phone sessions between mother and daughter had hidden the progression of Ida’s dementia, so it was only after Ida suffered a stroke that the evidence was impossible to overlook.

“We don’t think to question them. They’re our parents,” says Phyllis Rigney. “We didn’t realize the dementia was so far along.” Her advice: “Try to be aware of the mental state of your aging parents before they have an accident.”

The Rigneys found a new home for Ida at Mill View Memory Care in Bend, a community created for individuals with memory loss, Alzheimer’sor other memory impairments. Part of the thorough intake included a social and traditions history review which informs what familiar patterns are incorporated into a resident’s new daily and seasonal routine.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life and Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Memory loss is one symptom and especially evident at the holidays is confusion with time or place. Those afflicted with memory loss issues might be effectively “living” in another era.

Nycol Evans, Mill View Memory Care’s resident care coordinator, recommends that the patient’s family members, “Maintain familiar routines or traditions during the time they [the patient] are living in.”  That means if mom thinks it’s 1953, then just roll with it. Don’t try to argue or correct, it will just frustrate the patient and won’t make anything better for the family member.

Angel Hunter, executive director at Mill View Memory Care agrees. “Go where they are,” she recommends, “At the holidays, decorate and follow traditions of the era the patient is most comfortable with.”

For example, during circle exercise time in the Mill View community room, a song comes on and the activities attendant notes that Bing Crosby is singing “Ida’s song.” Part of the holiday plan for Ida will be a screening of Crosby’s 1954 movie, White Christmas.  Holiday activities for residents include the music, foods and photographs from multiple places and times.

Details matter, and even the choice of art in the residence community is a source of comfort.  In the Rigney family, Ida’s dad ran an automotive repair business and paintings and photos on the walls featuring old cars are a happy reminder for her.

During the holidays, the past bridges to the present when Don Rigney makes his traditional fudge—this time enough for the residents and staff—and Bing Crosby’s voice will fill the air while the family enjoys gazing at artwork and sharing stories about old cars.

10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:

1.     Memory loss that disrupts daily life

2.     Challenges in planning or solving problems

3.     Difficulty in completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure

4.     Confusion with time or place

5.     Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships

6.     New problems with words in speaking or writing

7.     Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

8.     Decreased or poor judgement

9.     Withdrawal from work or social activities

10.  Changes in mood and personality

According to the Alzheimer’s Association