When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the effect on the family can be overwhelming and trigger a range of emotions. Virginia Derry, resident of Parkway Place, a faith-based senior living community, knows that feeling. Her mother-in-law, husband and sister all battled the disease, and now she is helping others who are going through the same thing. At least twice a month, Derry walks from independent living to memory care and sits down at the piano. She is surrounded by a dozen residents who sing along to the tunes she plays. Derry says it reminds her of when she was the first choir teacher at a Memorial area high school. She loved teaching and wants to teach others the importance of music. Giving memory care residents a chance to escape through music is therapeutic, and Derry says it brings her joy to be able to give back.
“I feel a deep connection to memory care residents at Parkway Place because of my family’s history with the disease,” said Virginia. “It’s a disease many know of but don’t completely understand. I am still learning myself, and I want to help others. We’ve had success since I started playing the piano for the residents. They enjoy singing along even if they don’t know the words. Others hum the melody and it brings a smile to their face. We also share stories with each other about our grandkids and great-grandkids. I have always loved music. I spent my entire career teaching students how to sing, but to be able to help those who no longer have control is powerful. It’s something I look forward to doing each month, and I see the benefits residents take away from it.”
Music has been known to affect those with dementia and Alzheimer’s in a positive way. Research shows that while dementia causes progressive memory loss and impairment, memory for music remains. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are common in the middle-stages of the disease. Even in the late stages of Alzheimer's, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics to a song from childhood. Music is a tool that Parkway Place continues to incorporate into programming at the senior living community.
“The happiness Virginia brings to residents while she plays the piano and sings is remarkable,” said Susan Phelps, executive director at Parkway Place. “The number of residents who attend has grown over a short period of time, and as she continues to play the piano and sing we anticipate more residents will want to join in. Her background in the arts is helpful when teaching people new things. She is calm and patient with the residents, and you can tell she enjoys doing what she does. She is an inspiring woman, and we can’t thank her enough for sharing her talents and giving back to the community.”