Bob Marley and Alzheimer’s

Mr. Lee* is 80-years old. He has been coming to the day program since a few months. Mr. Lee used to be Cantonese-speaking. But he hasn’t been speaking at all since I’ve known him at the program. When he first came in, he hated it. He would just keep screaming, as if in pain, as if in discomfort, as if trapped. Ahhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhh. Nothing we did seemed to soothe him. Even the Cantonese-speaking staff were bewildered.

For the first few weeks, he had to be separated from the rest of the day program participants. He would sit by himself, staring blankly into space. He would eat when he was fed. He’d pee when he was taken to the bathroom. He didn’t respond to his name. He didn’t respond to smiles or touch.

Slowly, he was okay being with the group. He did not participate, but he did not scream either. He would make eye contact if we said his name, Mr. Lee — but nothing further. In the last few weeks, I have seen him hit a ball when we play noodle ball as a group. That’s the only game he likes. He is not interested in bowling or balloon tap. Just noodle ball.

Today, something dramatic happened. We were sitting in a circle. Doing crafts. He was just sitting by himself, you know, staring blankly into space. Then Bob Marley’s, “One Love” comes on the radio. I begin to dance. And then I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. I saw someone moving their arms. I thought it was someone trying to get the attention of a worker. But the movement was very rhythmic. With both hands. I looked up — lo and behold! Mr. Lee was moving his arms and dancing. He had a smile plastered. I could almost see his teeth.

I called out to all the workers. Everyone was gobsmacked! We all cheered. I danced with him till the song ended. He put his hands down. But the smile lingered. His. And mine.

The power of music never ceases to amaze me. Who’d have imagined an 80-year old Chinese man would be a Bob Marley fan! As put by another participant, a frail nonagenarian, “Thank you, Bobby for this beautiful song.”

Originally posted on From Outside The Mall as “Dancing w/ Mr. Lee

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