Red Roses…for a Blue Lady

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“I found my thrill…” I started.

“On blueberry hill,” the group answered.

It is astounding what the brain can recall, even when that brain is damaged by dementia. My residents love playing “Finish Line Sayings,” which is a game where I read the first part of a lyric or popular saying and they fill in the blank. Decades have passed since they’ve heard these songs, but somehow, in the deep recesses of their minds, the lyrics remain, untouched by time or brain damage.

I sat with a group of residents, reading out these sayings, one after another. Some sayings were obviously more well-known than others. I could tell what was more popular by how many people answered each line.

“Red roses for…” I asked.

“A blue lady!” Vera, Susan, and Karen called in unison. 

David sat quietly, back and neck hunched forward in his wheelchair. He had not answered any of the lyrics, but I did not expect him to. David typically does not say much. It is as though, while other residents are engaged, David is often off in another world. 

He did not seem to be listening. Maybe he doesn’t understand the game, I thought to myself.

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got…” I began.

“What?” Karen asked. “Hang on, hmmm,” Vera said, touching her fingers to her forehead in thought. 

My other residents were silent. I repeated the lyric.

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got…”

“A gal in Kalamazoo,” David answered quietly, eyes still closed.

“That’s right, great job, David,” I said, surprised. 

He did not respond.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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