Facing Dementia Together: Caring for A Lifetime of Memories

Originally posted in the Oklahoman.

When John and Barbara Erickson got married 70 years ago, they knew it was forever. Together ever since their wedding day, a dementia diagnosis was not going to change it.

“I realized I could no longer take care of my husband,” Barbara recalled. “I am quite healthy, but he needed more care than I could give.”

“John still has quite a bit of memory, but he is 92 and he loses a little bit every day,” she added.

Today, John and Barbara both live at Concordia Life Care Community. Barbara lives in an independent living apartment just a quick walk down the hall from John, who lives in Concordia’s memory services area.

This option in the retirement community allowed them to remain together, while both found the support they need.

“After 70 years, we’ve gotten quite used to being together,” she said with a chuckle.

Barbara visits John multiple times a day. They join activities together and she brings him back to her apartment for a cold Dr Pepper and to look through photo albums filled with memories of his youth and their early years together.

“I try to keep him connected with the things he still does remember,” Barbara explained.

At night, they can maintain their lifelong bedtime routines at John’s place, before Barbara heads back to her apartment.

Concordia Life Plan Community in Oklahoma City offers Alzheimer’s and dementia care residents a unique environment to meet not only the individual’s needs, but the family’s.

This program is structured to promote residents’ confidence by creating a safe memory care environment championing choice and celebrating accomplishments through familiar schedules and surroundings.

Because the memory care community is located within the greater Concordia community, it allows families to stay together and friends to stay connected, said activities coordinator Maddie Seward.

“I love that this is part of Concordia and so those who have been long-term friends can come and visit with those who have moved over to memory care. That’s very important – to stay connected,” she said.

Seward has cared for those in the memory care community for the past two years.

“God loves all of us and He really loves these people and we make sure they have a long, happy and productive life,” Seward said.

The key element is preserving the dignity of those struggling with various stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and more. It’s about empowering them, and keeping them safe and comfortable in a familiar environment.

The 16-unit memory care center is located within the health services area at Concordia and is decorated in a homelike manner.

“Everyone is different here, but we want to preserve their dignity at all cost, preserve their social connections and keep them engaged in activities that they cherish,” she said.

You may find memory care residents on walks around the community with Seward or with their hands in the dirt, gardening, or creating art in the community room.

That’s exactly why the Ericksons chose Concordia.

“There is more variety to life of the memory care people here than anywhere else I’ve been,” Barbara explained.

Seward explained while diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia can impact the mental capacity of residents, the patients remain the people that they always were at the core. Therefore, memory care staff makes it a high priority to keep them engaged and to actively listen for their preferences, likes and dislikes, habits and routines – and respect them.

“If a person who has always read the newspaper or always watched the same program, it is our job to make sure they can continue to do so in whichever capacity they can,” she said.

Residents have choice in their activity, even in what meals they order.

Concordia is also part of a national, science-based program called Music and Memory. Each patient receives a music player with playlists customized to them. Music, as Seward said, can have significant impact on memory care residents’ day-to-day state.

“Sometimes music can get through where we can’t,” Seward said.

For Seward, who is 72 herself, it is the close relationship with her residents that keeps her energized for work every day.

“I can interact with them on a spiritual level – we can pray together. I can interact on an emotional level. I don’t miss the nuances in somebody’s body language or facial impression. I know what makes you laugh. I listen,” she said.

Moreover, the memory care residents have access to specialized medical support, and staff who provide tailored memory care and assistance to fit each resident’s needs and preferences. Concordia also offers a short-term vacation stay program for those who care for their loved one at home.

Facing Alzheimer’s or dementia is a tough journey, but one that can be walked with grace and dignity.

“We strongly believe people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia deserve the chance to live to their fullest potential, and we’re here to help make that happen,” said Julie Davis, marketing director at Concordia. “And because we’re a continuing care retirement community, spouses or loved ones of residents receiving care can remain in their independent living or assisted living apartments only a short walk away all under one roof, and can enjoy visiting anytime. It keeps people together, and there is just nothing more beautiful than that.”

For more information, visit www.concordiaseniorliving.com/, schedule a tour or call 405-331-6113.

This article is sponsored by Concordia Life Care Community.