Alzheimer's music therapy class stimulates the mind

6:14 PM, Nov 30, 2009   |    comments
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KSDK -- When the Pete and Rose Mary Willenborg look through old albums, they see portraits in time, snapshots of their personal history, memories.

"Oh, I can't look at them in depth. They're just kind of pictures," Pete said.

"The short term memory is where Pete has his issues. If you're talking about something and he turns around and goes into the other room and comes back, he maybe can't remember what we're talking about," Rose Mary said.

Four years ago, an Alzheimer's diagnosis confirmed Pete's memory loss would be more than short-term. And it thrust Rose Mary into a role she never expected.

"You asked me to do something that's kind of hard for me to do, and that's to verbalize what I'm thinking. Also, to think even some thoughts when I look at the picture, what that picture brings me to," Pete explained.

"It has to be pure frustration for him," Rose Mary said. "It's a baffling disease. Every day, every hour, something different comes up."

No one is prepared for the role of caregiver, especially when you've got the rest of your lives planned.

"I was angry. All I could think about was negative things: We can't do this, we can't do this, we can't do this. But you adjust, and you learn to do things you can do and have fun with them," Rose Mary said.

Deb Bryer is the Early Stage Coordinator at the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

"People with Alzheimer's disease, in the past, have withdrawn, they've been afraid, afraid of embarrassing themselves, afraid of letting people see that there's a change in their memory and thinking," Bryer said.

As it turns out, a change in thinking is just what the community needed.

Introductions open the Alzheimer's music therapy class. But the understanding among participants is clear: In this room, there is no pressure to remember names or what happened last class. All that matters is the music.

Troy Jones, a music therapist at Forest Park Hospital, teaches the course. It aims to stimulate the mind and slow down the deterioration process.

"They'll tell you they're not done yet. They're still living and they're growing and they're doing, enjoying life. They have a problem, but we work with it," Jones explained. "It's not a strict, 'You have to do this on this beat.' The beautiful thing about the drums? There's no wrong answer."

"If you feel the beat, which I think he does, he kind of gets in his own world and gets involved," Rose Mary said. "It doesn't matter what ever is going on in the world, they're in that moment and they're having a good time. And that's the most important thing for them."

When so many things are coming up loss, it's the connections with other people that provide hope.

"I truly believe in the strength of the people who have this disease, and that all of us have the strength within us to face these things that happen in life that are difficult," said Bryer.

A commitment between two people, made stronger by the unforeseen events that often define our lives.

"I would hope that if I were in his shoes he would take care of me," Rose Mary said. "I understand from everybody I'm a pretty good caretaker, so we will take care of each other."

Click here for more information on Alzheimer's disease.

Click here for more information on the St. Louis Alzheimer's Association, or call 1-800-272-3900.


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