Can you still play

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Samuel is a very “tactile” person. By that I mean, he touches everything. He spends most of his day either sleeping or walking around the care community, picking things up, moving them around, putting them in his pants, or just admiring them.

Picking up items and moving them around is a really common dementia symptom. For a lot of caregivers, it’s really frustrating. Samuel paid no mind to the caregivers or other individuals, however. For the most part, people were just in his way. He wasn’t rude, he just was not aware of other people—he was much more interested in touching things.

The community where I consult had asked me to find them a piano. Usually, this is a tough ask, only because it is hard to move a piano from one place to another. I found a nice couple who had a piano, and they were also willing to bring it to our community themselves. 

We installed the piano in the dementia care wing yesterday, and it was immediately a hit. 

Samuel made his way over to the piano, clearly interested in this new item. “Samuel, do you know how to play the piano?” I asked him. Samuel is mostly nonverbal, but he nodded and said something quietly in response.

He took his seat at the piano and laid his fingers on the keys. This wasn’t like those other times: those times when he’d pick up items at random, touching them, moving them around. This action was deliberate. He began to play. 

The staff stood around the piano, amazed. “I had no idea he could play piano!” one of them exclaimed to me. “You never had a piano for him to play,” I smiled back.

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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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