Dorothy Plummer is 103 years old and has been diagnosed with dementia, but someone forgot to tell her that meant it was time to slow down.
Plummer is the youngest of 15 children and a mother to three sons.
She’s a dancer and harmonica player — and has been passionate about both since she was a child.
She’s a lifelong Kansan with a true competitor’s heart, which she showed in bowling a 171 game two years ago at 101.
That’s also around the time Plummer was diagnosed with dementia (and her local bowling alley closed), but she continues to lead a full and active life — according to her son, Gary Herrrick — as an effervescent, joyful resident at Brookdale College Square in Overland Park.
“The key for mom was that when she started having memory issues, her loneliness was amplified,” Herrick said. “Even a short time alone seemed like an entire day. Here she is always in the presence of people and stays active. She’s busy all of the time. She loves doing physical things and having fun, and that includes dancing and playing her harmonica.”
Cheered by a cozy audience of Brookdale staff, friends and fellow residents along with Herrick, Plummer performed a harmonica recital of folk songs and holiday favorites Tuesday morning. Every day, she’s lives life to the max in continuing to break barriers and knock down stereotypes of those who live with dementia.
Plummer’s recital coincided with the end of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Caregivers Month, which takes place each November after a decree by the late former President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
Back then, two million Americans had been diagnosed with some form of dementia, but today more than 5.5 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia with another diagnosis, on average, every 66 seconds, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The organization also said the number of people in Kansas with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase more than 19 percent by 2025 and more than 18 percent in Missouri during the same time period.
“There is a lot of stereotyping about dementia,” said Arlin Bohn, Brookdale’s executive director. “Many judge and stereotype people with these diseases. There are even people who believe dementia makes someone a ‘bad person.’ People with dementia are the same as they were before the disease.
“They have the same interests, passions, and need for community and friends. They are the same social, caring, kind people they always were. What changes are their needs for care and how we address those.”
The memory-care staff at Brookdale focuses on person-centered care, which requires the caregivers to get to know residents and their lives very well. They learn about their patients’ families, careers, hobbies, and interests in order to help connect them today with the life they led before the disease.
“This connection is important,” Bohn said. “It gives meaning and purpose to dementia patients’ lives. Our caregivers recreate family for them and provide personal, individualized care in a home-like setting, where they engage with other memory-care patients. Without a family and home environment created and maintained by caregivers, dementia patients can waste away.”
Herrick understands how vital this care is to his mother’s desire and ability to thrive despite her condition.
“We tried to do this as in-home care for mom,” he said. “We had to accept that we needed help. We needed other people to support us and our mother. The most difficult thing is not being able to take her home now, but here she can still do activities and have a full life.”
That includes playing tune after tune on her harmonica for a delighted and adoring crowd.