Broadway at Sunrise MAG

April 28, 2008
By Margaret Schneider, Rockville Centre, NY

I volunteer in the Alzheimer’s unit of a retirement home. When I started at the Sunrise of North Lynbrook, because of my age, the activities coordinator placed me with residents not affected by dementia. I played games, baked, and read poetry with them. However, I felt that I could contribute more. Therefore, in addition to my regular work, I volunteered to play piano in the Alzheimer’s unit. Since then, every Saturday morning I play music ranging from nursery songs to Broadway show tunes for these residents.

Unfortunately, I have had a great deal of experience with dementia. Before my great aunt was placed in Sunrise’s Alzheimer’s unit in 2003, she lived with my family. Every day was a constant struggle to keep her safe, and my parents and I spent hours trying to calm her and convince her to take her medication. It was extremely hard for me to see this brilliant, strong woman lose her sense of reality. However, from this experience, I gained an understanding about how to work with people with Alzheimer’s.

While I’ve focused on classical music during my nine years of lessons, I also love to play popular ­music. In the past few years, I’ve become interested in Broadway music and have collected sheet music from decades of Broadway shows.

My favorite part of playing for the residents is ­seeing their reactions. One day, in the midst of my playing, one woman started singing. I was happy that she was enjoying the music and remembering the words. Suddenly, I realized that some of the nurses watched in astonishment, one with tears in her eyes. When I asked why, they said they had never heard her speak, let alone sing! Though she hasn’t sung since, it felt good to know that I broke through her fog, even for a few minutes.

I also saw my impact when another resident said, “I usually don’t know anything, but when you play, I feel like I know something.” It was completely unexpected, and it melted my heart. I’ve grown to love these people. One day, when I was playing, the son of one of the residents thanked me. He said he was happy that someone was giving his mother pleasure in her last few years. Recently, a woman who usually naps during the day was inspired to play the piano. Nobody even knew she played! Now, my piano playing on Saturday mornings is part of the tour Sunrise gives to prospective residents, and it is described as one of its unique advantages.

Through this experience, I have become more ­patient with others. When you realize that at times people’s problems have nothing to do with their ­character, it is easier to see the good in everyone. In addition, I have learned about being committed to a task. It’s hard to miss a Saturday when I know that my efforts bring so much joy to others. I’ve also gained a different perspective on my own problems. I’ve stopped obsessing over test grades because I know that there are more important things.

Recently, I was awarded the Long Island Alz­heimer’s Foundation’s Annual Outstanding Service Award for my work at Sunrise. I hope to continue helping people with dementia my entire life, wherever I am.

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This article has 1 comment.

somekid123 said...
on Oct. 9 2008 at 12:45 am
it is good that people do things like this.


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