When we hear about someone “leaving a legacy”, we might think of financial assets. Yet a recent survey of more than 3000 Americans, weighted towards those 55+, found this is not what “legacy” means to most people.

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The vast majority — a whopping 94 percent — defined a life well lived as “having family and friends that love me.” Three-fourths felt it was about “making a positive impact on society.” Just ten percent said “accumulating a lot of wealth” was paramount.

This survey reaffirms why tradition has always held such a prominent place in the heart of Americans: it cements relationships, helps us know where and to whom we belong, and what really matters.

How Traditions Can Evolve To Support Evolving Seniors

Tradition is especially important as we age — and especially around the holidays. How can you maintain cherished traditions, while adapting to the changing needs of a senior who may no longer be able to host the festivities, or even to attend them?

  • Keep the tradition, switch up the venue. When one daughter’s beloved mom was in short-term rehab over Easter, too medically fragile to be moved, the family rallied and brought Easter to her.

They rented a conference room at the rehab center, and carried in all the delicious traditional family dishes — along with fine china and fresh flowers! Their mother was delighted, and everyone agreed that shifting perspective enabled them to enjoy one of their best holidays ever.

In another situation, when Uncle Bob, now wheelchair-bound, was unable to leave his home for Passover due to the many stairs leading down from his front door, his 11 nieces and nephews delivered the “moveable feast” to him and enjoyed the traditional Passover menu along with him.

  • Keep the tradition, switch up the function. What if dementia is affecting a senior’s ability to carry out his or her usual holiday traditions? Interest them in a related activity. If mom used to bake the best rolls in the county but can no longer follow a recipe, ask if she’d like to set out and flour the baking sheets.

Or perhaps you and she can share stories of past holiday meals, with you prompting her to tell what she loved most, and what she’s looking forward to this year, while you handle the baking. Talking about family members will also prime her for their arrival.

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Once the grandchildren get here, there are so many other ways to spend special time with grandma, maintaining your existing traditions while devising new ones that suit who she is now.

  • Explore what a tradition means for you. One 70-year-old woman who teaches part-time, and thrives on seeing her young grandchildren blossom, has been a lifelong reader; reading literature was something of a family tradition. She said, “I only want to read the classics now that time is short.”

This seems a perplexing statement in an era when life expectancy for women exceeds 81 years, and there are more U.S. centenarians than ever before in history. She’s in good health, and might easily live another 20 years or more.

She then revealed that both parents had dementia — her mother with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at just 59 — and died by their mid-seventies. “I might only have four or five good years left,” she said seriously.

Reality is as individual as our heritage, traditions, and DNA. Knowing what matters most as we age makes all the difference.

Creating Traditions To Help Seniors Stay Active and Engaged

Sometimes, what we do becomes less tradition than habit. In her mid-50s, investigative reporter Lu Ann Cahn, who had already survived two life-threatening illnesses, felt stuck in the doldrums.

Her daughter suggested she try something new every day for a year, and blog about it. Cahn took her advice to heart.

Now a senior with more verve than she’s ever had, Cahn turned her 365 days of adventure into an inspiring book, I Dare Me. Her Year of Firsts even included spending a day wheelchair-bound to better understand what life is like for the differently abled, or for elders with limited mobility.

Many of Cahn’s Firsts are activities most seniors can attempt in order to rekindle their energy and enthusiasm. Some are also excellent for those with mild memory impairment.

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Here are 25 of Cahn’s tamer Firsts that might be appropriate for residents of The Kensington White Plains — or for family members who have an adventuresome spirit:

  1. Read every word in the newspaper
  2. Spend a day without looking in a mirror (tough one!)
  3. Analyze a dream
  4. Learn the alphabet backwards (great for challenging senior brain cells to stay sharp)
  5. Don’t say anything negative all day
  6. Reconcile a longtime family issue
  7. Learn to tell a joke
  8. Talk to a stranger
  9. Pay for a stranger’s coffee
  10. Go to the movies solo
  11. Take a knitting lesson
  12. Dance in the kitchen
  13. Sing with a community choir
  14. Meditate for 20 minutes
  15. Bake a flourless chocolate torte
  16. Plant a potted herb garden (i.e., for the windowsill)
  17. Learn Twitter
  18. Go to the opera
  19. Give out free hugs
  20. Take a golf lesson
  21. Attend a Japanese tea ceremony
  22. Learn sign language
  23. Join a drum circle
  24. Pose for a street artist
  25. Participate in a Secret Santa contest

All of these ideas are feasible for a senior in reasonably good health to attempt. Plus, there are scientific benefits to the more “altruistic” Firsts, such as paying for someone else’s coffee or giving out hugs. Researcher Stephanie Brown, at the University of Michigan, found that seniors who helped friends, relatives, or neighbors in some way lived longer over a five-year period than those who didn’t provide any support to others.

Life Enrichment Can Create New Traditions

At The Kensington White Plains, our full-time Life Enrichment team works tirelessly to create diverse, interesting, participatory activities to engage and entertain our residents.

Many of Cahn’s creative ideas are part of our repertoire. Whether someone resides in assisted living or in one of our memory care neighborhoods, we offer activities to stretch them mentally and physically, at their level of comfort and participation, celebrating each individual’s uniqueness and strengths.

Whether it’s music, cooking, or a penchant for golf, we provide ongoing opportunities for those who live here to create new traditions they can share with those they love. Come join us.

If you have questions about the care our team at The Kensington White Plains can provide, please don’t wait to get in touch with us.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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