My first encounter with Alzheimer’s disease was when I started playing old-time music on the piano every week at the Newton Wellesley Alzheimer’s hospital on Wednesday afternoons. When I first walked in, just a high school student about to start freshman year, I didn’t know what to think. Initially, I felt like most of the patients were not listening to me play or enjoying my music, and most days I felt like I was just playing for myself.
One day I went in early, and instead of playing piano, my supervisor told me to interact with the patients. Nervously, I approached a man named Peter, and the first thing he said to me was, “Aren’t you the one that’s usually at the keyboard? Are you going to be playing today?” After I said yes, he told me, “Keep it up, you do a good job.” I was pleased to know that a patient remembered me and enjoyed the music I was playing. Usually, he sat quietly in his chair, seeming half asleep, but that day he suddenly started telling me about his life working as a teacher, and I was amazed by the life he had before he was struck with Alzheimer’s disease. Soon after I talked to more and more people at the Alzheimer’s hospital, and made many personal connections. Over time, I began to learn the patients’ favorite songs. Whenever I start my performance I play “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean,” knowing that all the patients will join in, singing in unison. One woman named Marilyn, knew almost every song, and especially a loved a song named, “And The Band Played On.” Whenever I played the piece it brought me joy to see her singing and sometimes even dancing. Occasionally, on days when the patients are especially irritable and I see staff running around trying to calm things down, I play “Amazing Grace,” knowing the song will soothe many of them.
Now when I play for the patients, I know I am not playing for myself but instead I’m playing for kind, loving people. Sadly, as time passed, some of the patients’ health declined and it’s been heartbreaking for me to see this. Patients such as Marilyn who used to be so lively no longer have as much spirit as they used to. But, whenever Marilyn walks into the room, I play “And The Band Played On” knowing she’ll still hum to the tune.
After seeing the terrible toll that Alzheimer’s takes, I decided I want to help contribute to finding a cure for this ultimately fatal disease. After researching, I chose to help the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to funding research with the highest probability of preventing, slowing, or reversing Alzheimer’s disease. One hundred percent of the funds raised go directly to research. While I’ll continue bringing joy to Alzheimer’s patients through music, I will donate also all the money I earn from teaching piano to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. I hope you can join in my efforts by making a donation, big or small. Together I know we can make a difference.