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Etta Ann: A Memory Care Moment Story
Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 12:15 AM
Joined: 12/12/2013
Posts: 10

Etta Ann never makes sense.  She wanders the hall talking to herself with words that don’t belong together.  It’s like that in the Memory Care wing.  Talking to the residents is like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit the pieces into a picture of life before Alzheimer’s.  With patience and luck those pieces sometimes reveal a story.  Today I had both patience and luck.


Etta Ann followed mom and I along the perimeter, politely carrying on a nonsensical conversation with serious tone.  As always, she clutched a random collection of papers, newspapers, napkins, and magazines close to her chest, fingering through the pile incessantly suggesting that at least in her mind, these were critically important documents.  She wouldn’t leave us alone.  Mom had her jaw clenched, giving me the “let’s go” look.


Her collection looked different today.  Sticking out from her pile were large, loose, tattered music sheets.  Years ago they might have held some order, having long since been re-arranged by dementia.   Running her weathered finger across the musical bars, her words made no sense but her tone clearly indicated that she had something important to say about each passage. When her finger reached a spot in the music where the notes grew tighter and more numerous, she stiffened and stared at me with eyebrows raised, her tone growing softer yet ominous.  I could feel the warning flags.  Mom became more adamant that we should move on.


Etta Ann told us she was tired.  I walked her to the piano in the activities area.  She took a seat on the bench and kept looking at the keys, seeming agitated.  “If you know how to play piano, we’d love to hear you,” I offered.  Searching through the loose sheets, she selected one, placed it on the piano, and took her time flattening it out.  She looked down at her feet, confused, but clearly saying, “there it is” as her foot found the pedal.


She became a different person the minute her hands touched the piano.  Mom whispered “oh my god.”  The Alzheimer’s mask dropped.  Beautiful melody and harmony arose from the yellowed pages.  She stopped playing where the notes got dense, that ominous spot she had warned me about.  She seemed sad, trying to tell us something with a tone that clearly said, “I’m sorry.”  She pointed to the beginning and started over.


And then she began to sing.  Not words, but beautiful soft humming in perfect pitch, in perfect time with the music.  Mom and I exchanged shocked glances.  Mom didn’t want to go.  I detected a tear in her eye.  I certainly felt one in mine.


Etta Ann stopped where the notes got dense. “I’m tired.”  Mom whispered, “I know you are sweetie, we all are.”  We helped her gather her music, adding them to her random collection of newspapers, napkins, and magazines.  She slowly wandered off past the nurses station, clutching them tightly to her chest.

Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 11:16 AM
Joined: 12/30/2012
Posts: 3520

Oh my! What a moving experience! Thank you for sharing. Etta Ann must be a special woman.
Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 7:22 PM
Joined: 12/23/2011
Posts: 114

How beautiful, thank you for telling us this story. Bill also played piano, we brought his small keyboard for his room when he moved in. MC. At first he would play for me and I found it magical, he didn't know I was his wife and he didn't talk  in a language that anyone could understand but if I suggested a song he would play it. This didn't last long, only a few months went by and he would just look at the keys.

He left me in June 2013, I miss him so. Millie

Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 8:24 PM
Joined: 12/29/2013
Posts: 2

your story about etta anne is so beautiful.  music reaches a part of the brain that

is still there.  I did some music work with my guitar when mom was in the

hospital.  the doctors said she was in a coma but later she was able to

convey to them that she heard guitar and singing.

Anyone who can get their loved one involved in music is giving them a great gift.



Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 2:53 PM
Joined: 12/12/2013
Posts: 10

Thank you for your replies, It was a moving experience I felt compelled to share, so I'm glad it touched you.  I am sorry for your loss, Millie. Yes, Horselady, a number of people have told me the music part of the brain is the last to go, I think music can be used more in therapy. Etta Ann still roams the perimeter of mom's MC.  The other day I got her to play again, without music sheets (she used an upside down book or words on the music stand, flattened it out, and played from it).  I wonder if in her mind she saw those words as musical notes?  It's a mystery, this thing we are all involved in.


Jim Broede
Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014 8:12 AM
Joined: 12/22/2011
Posts: 5462


Not only is Etta Ann a special woman. So are all Alzheimer-riddled people. They communicate in unique, individual ways. It’s up to us to listen. To observe.  To grasp. I’m convinced. The inner spirit never dies.  It’s there.  Care-givers must learn to tune in. --Jim

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014 6:58 PM
Joined: 1/19/2013
Posts: 48

Loved your story.  We have some old cassettes of my father singing (he's been gone for 28 years).  Mama loved his "Danny Boy" rendition.  So, I try to play it for her off and on.  I also played some old home movies yesterday.  But I can tell, she enjoys the music much more.  I loved Jim's comments too.  Thank you...