Walden Place resident Mary Tuthill has always been an exceptional communicator, and while dementia has changed her form of communication, it certainly has not dimmed her spirit. As a speech-language pathologist, her life’s work has been helping others communicate effectively, and her life at Walden Place, much like her life before dementia, is filled with laughter and music. Director of Resident Programs at Walden Place Amie Underwood says of their resident virtuoso, “Mary may not be able to speak using words like she used to, however, she speaks to me through her facial expressions, singing, whistling and laughing.”
The daughter of an Armenian immigrant who came to the United States in 1917, Mary is an accomplished pianist and opera singer. She is a coloratura soprano who performed as a professional soloist for the Presbyterian Church. Her daughter Sandra, also a speech pathologist, says that one of her earliest memories is watching her mother perform onstage. At a time when it was unusual for mothers to work outside the home, Sandra says that Mary was an incredible role model, managing the home and her career with humor and grace. She describes her mother as “brilliant” and the staff at Walden Place agrees wholeheartedly. They point out Mary’s love of music and her sense of humor, even when she is frustrated by the inability to find the right word to express herself. They also share that Mary has another talent: she is an expert whistler! Amie says that Mary can whistle like no one else; she can imitate any bird and whistle many songs to perfection. She is very fond of the movie The Sound of Music as well, and can often be found after dinner singing along with Julie Andrews or playing a medley of Christmas songs on the piano.
Mary’s daughter, Sandra, shares that when her mother was diagnosed with dementia, she worried about how the transition from assisted living to memory care would affect her, but says that she has been impressed with Walden Place. The community shows incredible dedication and compassion to their memory care residents. In fact, Sandra brings speech pathology graduate students to Walden Place for cognitive and language programming, a popular program that she says has an impressive waitlist! She shares that her students love visiting the memory care residents, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Residents and staff look forward to the visits, and the students gain valuable insight into non-verbal forms of communication which is a vital part of caring for a patient with dementia.
With programming that focuses on purposeful and enjoyable activities, the memory care program at Walden Place provides residents and families with meaningful interaction and opportunities to re-connect, and while a diagnosis of dementia can be daunting for any family, there can still be joy and laughter; Mary Tuthill is living proof of that. If you visit Walden Place and hear whistling or beautiful piano music, you can be sure that the virtuoso of Walden Place is sharing her unique talent for communication!