Alzheimer’s disease and the Right Brain.
Background: As director and nurse practitioner of an Alzheimer’s Adult Day Care in Northern California during the early 1980’s, I made contact with one most interesting client. Lee was a 70-year old man with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. He had played Tenor Sax for the Jimmy Dorsey Band and retired from the world of music to lead a successful career in the insurance business. Now, Lee had incoherent sentence structure, emotional outbursts and required almost total assistance with dressing, bathing, and personal elimination. His wife was supportive, depressed, and frustrated.
The Day Program: Upon admission to the day program, he was receiving daily Thioridazine at 400 mg (normal was around 50-100 mg). He initially needed much attention due to his wandering, inappropriate behavior, and inability to participate in even the simplest activities. However, within three months he has tapered off all Thioridazine and was beginning to remain with other participants during the daily exercise activity and at lunchtime.
The Brain Switch: During a visit from a volunteer one-man jazz band, Lee played “Summertime” without missing a note. During a fast-paced jazz tune, he remarked very appropriately, “Ah gee, I used to know that one!”
The day program environment provided a supportive and non-judgmental place for this gentleman to be himself. No one felt frustrated or sad about his behavior or inept conversation. He was respected and treated as a unique individual despite his disease. The success comes from Lee’s own insights. One day he stood up at the end of the lunch table and made his usual incoherent statements that no one really understood, yet all nodded with approval and interest. Then it came. “You know, I really love all you people!” he exclaimed as clear as a bell.