The Piano Player.


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Joyce* loves to play the piano. When I first arrived at my dementia care community, I was impressed by her song repertoire. I realized pretty quickly, however, that Joyce played the same five songs over, and over, and over again.

There are a couple of other residents that play, but the piano essentially “belongs” to Joyce. Across from the piano is a couch. The same two women always sit on that couch, and one of them, Virginia*, always sings along. 

If Virginia stops singing, or isn’t loud enough, Joyce will stop playing and turn to her. “Why aren’t you singing?” she’ll ask. 

She hits most of the notes, but I’ve realized recently that she’s starting to miss a few. When Joyce misses a note, she’ll pause and replay an earlier part of the song. 

Virginia never notices when Joyce misses a note. She also never remembers that it’s the same five songs over, and over, and over again. Every day, the songs are new, and every day, she is ecstatic to sing them.

“Pretty, pretty, pretty,” Virginia says, nodding with approval as Joyce closes the piano for the afternoon.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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