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Person With Dementia

65. Person With Dementia

I worked in a nursing home for eleven years as a music therapist, and then moved to a different nursing home for another two years. In both facilities, I worked with persons with dementia. And I learned.

The most important thing I learned was to stay—stay with the person—sometimes in silence but sometimes in conversation and sometimes with music. There was one woman with whom I would carry on a conversation. I would ask a question. She would say some words that seemed not to relate to the question at all. I would say some words, she said more. It seemed like we were talking together and missing each other when suddenly she would connect and respond to the last thing I had said.

On another occasion I had a small group of five people, all with dementia of various stages. It was the last day of the year. I had my guitar and my goal was to make contact with each person, even briefly. I had done that in the thirty minutes we had, except for one woman. I had my guitar, sat beside her, and started strumming as I said, “You know this is the last day of this year and one of the songs we often sing is “Auld Lang Syne.” I started to sing it and about the second line she started to sing too. I moved in front of her and knelt there with the guitar. We sang the rest of the song together as she looked into my eyes. The minute we ended the song, her eyes stared away across the room. I sat back down beside her and touched her arm and said softly, “That was wonderful to sing with you.” She looked back at me, said, “It was, wasn’t it?” and then she was gone again.

But we had connected.

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