Student With Alzheimer’s Sings the Songs in Her Heart

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l to r: Carl, Adrienne, and Margaret

From the time Margaret Wasielewski was a little girl, she sang. First it was in church choirs. Later, she sang in a production of Carmen at the University of Indiana. And at age 75, Margaret still sings once a week, with her teacher Adrienne Schroeder.

“She likes to learn old pop standards. She’s obsessed with ‘Summertime’ and we’ve been sprinkling in lots of others, like ‘What a Difference a Day Makes,’ ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ the theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me,’ etc.,” says Adrienne.

The lesson is a bright spot in the week for both Adrienne and Margaret, who has Alzheimer’s disease and takes her private lessons at her assisted-living community.

As a young woman, Margaret received her master’s degree in international relations from Yale — no easy feat for anyone, let alone a woman in that era.

According to her son Carl, Margaret has always been a “doer” and a “joiner” who is up for a challenge. When she asked for piano lessons last year, Carl had no hesitation signing her up.

“Alzheimer’s has ravaged her brain and taken away so much of her interior self, but her ability to challenge herself remains. The fundamental desire is there,” Carl says. “She wants to grow, to improve.”

Well aware of the positive impact of learning music on Alzheimer’s patients, Carl’s research led him to our article about another student of Adrienne’s who has Alzheimer’s.

“Adrienne’s been great, and piano is good for my mom,” Carl says. “I know she likes it. And the way playing music can form new neural pathways is positive.”

Like any new student-teacher combo, Adrienne and Margaret took a few lessons to find their rhythm. But now, Adrienne says, Margaret’s opened up, and their lessons are symbiotic.

Margaret learns from and practices with Adrienne, but Adrienne’s learning, too. She’s inspired by Margaret’s ability to be critical in a positive way, and to have uninhibited fun while singing and playing.

“I’ve deepened my understanding of my role as a channel and conduit,” Adrienne says. “We’re technically playing music, but it’s really much bigger than that. And the good vibes go both ways.”

Carl notes that his mother is not the same woman she used to be, but he’s grateful for the facets of her personality that shine through.

“I’m so glad that understanding and lovely people like Adrienne are able to engage her, intelligently and compassionately, at the level where she is, while respecting the dignified, powerful woman that remains inside of her today,” Carl says.

Witness the good vibes between Adrienne, Margaret, and Carl in this video. And check out another story about how music lessons improve the life of a student with Alzheimer’s.

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