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melanie81's avatar

Playing flute for my grandmother in the Alzheimer's section of her assisted living home today - what to expect?

Asked by melanie81 (794points) December 30th, 2009

I visited her last week and it was my first time dealing with Alzheimer’s patients – even my grandmother, whose health has deteriorated drastically since I last saw her. There will probably be about 10 – 15 people in their “meeting area” to listen. I’m planning to play slower pieces in the lower range of the instrument – I definitely don’t want to bust up in there playing stuff that’s fast, high, and loud.

Apparently there’s a lady there who will randomly start yelling at you for doing something like, say, pick up a blanket off the floor….not sure how to react if she starts screaming at me today. I’m used to a very different audience obviously. I usually like to talk between pieces to introduce them, but I’m not sure I should do that here. What should I expect, overall?

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19 Answers

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I think that what you’re planning to do is great, and good for you.

But treat your audience as you would any other—as competent adults—and they may live up to that. If you attempt to treat them in any lesser way, then… they may live down to that.

I’d also play a selection or two from your up-tempo stuff, too, and see how well that is received. Maybe better than you think.

shilolo's avatar

First of all, this is a wonderful thing you are doing. Second, I would speak as you suggested to introduce the piece. Treat them as you would any other audience. To act differently wouldn’t really change their responses. Third, you should expect the unexpected, but, realize that the staff is likely to intervene if someone gets out of hand. Fourth, I would simply continue to play if something strange happens. Don’t stop simply because one person is disruptive. The rest will still enjoy it. Finally, this is quite the mitzvah, don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t go over perfectly.

marinelife's avatar

It is good of you to do this. People’s emotional sections of the brain are the last things to go. They are very basic.

Try for music that will touch them in different ways: happy and uptempo, sad, ethereal.

If you want to introduce the pieces, i would go ahead, but keep it very brief.

Austinlad's avatar

Music hath charms… what a great thing to do, melanie81.

Judi's avatar

Prepare to be blessed and appreciated. If someone acts inappropriately, know that they are like a child. You are going to bring so much joy, and maybe a tear or two.
My sister and her son manage several Alzheimer’s centers. They have a philosophy that their goal is to make special moments, in the moment, because every moment for these people is literally fleeting.
On behalf of all families who suffer from this sad disease, thank-you for being one of those special moments in their lives.

faye's avatar

Good for you and I agree with the above answers, especially about not stopping if someone is disruptive, as there is bound to be someone.

Austinlad's avatar

I respectfully disagree with use of the word “inappropriately” in this context. Yes, to those of us fortunate enough to have our mental facilities intact, people with Alzheimer’s are acting inappropriately. But those cursed with this horrible disease (my mother is one of them) are simply doing the best they are able in a world of their own. That mindset
goes a long, long way toward productive interaction in situations like this.

john65pennington's avatar

You are a good person for this act you are about to perform. be prepared for anything and do not take everything they may say to you, to heart. do not carry your feelings on your shoulder. remember, their memory comes and goes, so just roll with the punches and smile. a smile will win them over every time. playing a slow song in a low key is an excellent idea. i would play nothing that would get them excited. john

Judi's avatar

@Austinlad ; I agree inappropriately was probably the wrong word. A more positive word might be, “creatively?”
Having worked when I was in High School (many many moons ago) as a Nurses Aide in a nursing home, I have grown to love, respect, and appreciate the elderly, even as their memory fades. If what I said was offensive I wholeheartedly apologize. There is a whole new “normal,” for people dealing with this illness and I never meant to be insensitive to that.

loser's avatar

Expect smiles! Inside and out! What a wonderful thing to do. Good for you!!!

Val123's avatar

My Mom died of Alz…Have absolutely NO expectations and NO dismay at anything that happens. I don’t care if someone stands up and starts taking off their clothes, just blow it off.
Thank you for doing that….playing the flute. I’d be very interested to know how it goes! Also, ask the nurses if there was any change in any of them.

Val123's avatar

Also…I’m sure they’ll have nurses and aids standing by to remove anyone who causes too much of a commotion. Let us know!

shilolo's avatar

@melanie81 So how did it go?

Val123's avatar


melanie81's avatar

Hey everyone – thanks for all the input!! As you may have guessed, it went over WONDERFULLY :) I learned so much from this experience….played a mix of traditional Bach Sonatas, easy Christmas tunes, and a couple of hymns. At first, the quick-paced Sonatas stirred them up, but after a couple of minutes they were completely quiet and drawn in. I think the winner here was the Christmas tunes – they even sang along!!

To my left was my biggest fan – this woman loved the flute before I even played my first note. To my right, however, was a woman who was moaning loudly for the first 5 minutes of the “performance”, yelling at me to play softer, or to “please stop playing….everybody hates me”. However, after those 5 minutes, she fell in love with it and was asking me who composed the pieces I was playing! She couldn’t stop thanking me the rest of the time – how cool is that?? I noticed that a lot of the patients who were disconnected or unhappy with me being there at first ended up seeming much more calm and collected toward the end. When I first arrived, many of them made no sense with their words, but when I finished playing, they were able to communicate in clear sentences (albeit just a few sentences at a time). There were a couple who couldn’t communicate with words, but simply put their hand out and squeezed my hand for about 10 seconds :)

It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I definitely plan on playing again when I’m home in Louisiana next. Now I have a better idea of what “works” best. My grandparents have always been my biggest supporters, and recently gave me a beautiful baby grand piano that was in their home….so this is the LEAST I can do to show them my love and appreciation. Thanks everyone – it was nice to go into it with some idea of what to expect!

Val123's avatar

I have tears in my eyes!

marinelife's avatar

@melanie81 What a wonderful experience. Recently, some work that has been done has shown that people who have had strokes or other brain damage can learn to talk again by first singing along to music. It is amazing that your playing would have had the effect of making the people more communicative.

melanie81's avatar

@Marina Really! It’s amazing that music connects people to the oldest of memories…

marinelife's avatar

@melanie81 Yes, here is an article about it.

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