Bringing Joy to a Person With Alzheimer’s Isn’t Tough

Marie Marley Joy Alzheimer's

Note: This is an excerpt from the just published book, ‘Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers by Marie Marley, PhD, and neurologist Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN.


“Please wear a tux,” I said over the phone to Don, the classical violinist I was hiring to play a special concert for my Romanian soul mate, Ed, in his room at the Alois Alzheimer Center. As we were talking, I described Ed’s state of dementia, adding that he had been a college professor of French who loved classical ‘moo-sic.’

When I arrived the day of the concert, I was relieved to see the aide had shaved Ed and dressed him nicely in a light blue shirt and his grey tweed sport coat, the one with leather patches on the elbows.

After a few minutes, Don appeared in the doorway. I introduced Don and told Ed he was going to play a special violin concert for him.

[5 Ways to Get Out of a Caregiver Rut]

“Oh! Superb! Wonderful! I’m honored!” Ed said as he shook Don’s hand.

I had the feeling Ed was really impressed by the tux.

I set up my tripod. I planned to take many pictures, hoping to get at least a few good shots of what I hoped was going to be a special occasion.

Don sat down on the tan metal folding chair I’d placed in front of Ed and began playing a Strauss waltz. The sounds were lively and luscious. I watched as his bow flew up and down and his fingers danced around. Ed looked captivated. His eyes glued to Don, he had a rapt expression on his face and moved in time with the music.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he boomed in his bass voice while clapping at the end of the waltz. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I have ever heard in my entire, r-r-really long, and I emphasize r-r-really long, life.”

[Alzheimer’s Took a Lot– But It Couldn’t Take Away Love]

Don thanked him and began playing a Romanian piece, as I’d requested. Ed smiled broadly, but I couldn’t tell if he realized it was music from his homeland.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he called out again, clapping as before. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I’ve heard,” he said. “Ever,” he added. “I don’t have words to say how happy I am that you are playing just for me.”

“Thanks,” Don said. “I’m glad you liked it.”

Ed reached his hand toward Don, and Don grasped and held it.

“What did you teach when you were a professor?” Don asked.

“I don’t r-r-remember,” Ed answered. Then he added, “Honestly, I’m not even sure I was a professor.”

[Activities People Can Still Enjoy During Every Stage of Alzheimer’s]

Then, since there were so many Gypsies in Romania and that was part of Ed’s culture, I asked Don to play some Gypsy music. He played Bizet’s Habañera from Carmen, and Ed sang along, jabbing his index finger in the air in time with the music.

“Tra la la-la, la la la la-la,” he sang, a twinkle in his eyes.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he shouted at the end of the piece. “That was the most beautiful ‘moo-sic’ I have ever heard in my entire r-r-really long, and I emphasize r-r-really long, life,” he said again. “You are the most talented ‘moo-si-cian’ ever, and I r-r-really mean it from my heart. It’s not just words from my lips.”

Don played half an hour longer, the music interspersed with more hand holding and small talk. When the concert was finished, I asked Don to sit on the sofa beside Ed so I could take a picture of them. Ed put his hand on Don’s arm, and I snapped the photo.

Marie Marley Joy Alzheimer's Violin

Don left after many more goodbyes, more excited compliments from Ed, and thanks from me.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ essay]

Some of the photographs are adorable. Ed looked as happy as I’d ever seen him. One of the pictures shows him with both arms outstretched toward Don as he was playing. Another, taken when they were sitting on the sofa, shows Ed with his hand on Don’s arm, looking as proud as if he were sitting next to the President or the Queen of England or something.

The pictures captured the happiness of a man who had lost so much, yet was still capable of great joy. He was a man who wouldn’t remember the concert even an hour later, but he was captivated and delighted by every second of it as it happened. And that’s what mattered.

About the Author

author image

Marie Marley is co-author of Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers and author of the award-winning book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. She also hosts her own blog and publishes a twice-monthly newsletter dealing for people caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The newsletter and blog can be accessed through her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com), which contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Marie is the author of hundreds of articles on Alzheimer’s caregiving and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.

Read more from Marie Marley

Sign Up for MariaShriver.com's Weekly Must-Read

More Posts from Architects of Change

  • Abbe Jacobson
  • New Abel James author photo courtesy of lianamikah com
  • Abigail-Brenner
  • Adam-Garone
  • Photo Cred: Carla Duharte Razura
  • Adrian-Crouch
  • Aida-Mollenkamp
  • Albina du Boisrouvray
  • Alex-Kinzler
  • Alex Quilici_YouMail CEO
  • _MG_6814 copy
  • Alex Woodard
  • Alexander-Trivas
  • The Mindfulness Project
  • Alexis Kauchik
  • Alexis-Maybank-and-Alexandra-Wilson