Visiting Miss Daisy - A Delightful Lady With Alzheimer's

"I've come to visit you, Miss Daisy," I said in a perky tone of voice.

"Me?" she exclaimed - smiling, looking up at me, raising her eyebrows and putting her hand over her heart.

"Yes. You," I answered, delighted by her excited reaction.

She had already won my heart. It was obvious she was thrilled to have me visit even if she had no earthly idea who I was. She didn't know I was a volunteer visitor to her memory care facility.

During that visit - our first - I discovered that Miss Daisy's social skills were so good you'd think she was volunteering to visit me!

One of the staff members had told me Miss Daisy loved Elvis, so I told her, "I understand you like Elvis."

"Elvis," she said with disdain. "Where did they get that?"

"Well, what kind of music do you like?"

She blurted out, "classical!"

"Who's your favorite composer?" I inquired.

I didn't really expect her to remember the name of any one composer, but she promptly and definitively said, "Tchaikovsky."

So for the next visit I wrapped up a CD of The Nutcracker Suite and gave it to her. She tore off the gift wrap and smiled real big when she saw what was inside. She thanked me repeatedly. But after a few minutes, her eyes became downcast, and she said, "I'm sorry I don't have anything to give you."

To help her save face, I pointed out, "Well, you have some cookies on your table."

She laughed lightly and said, "Sure. Help yourself."

When I soon asked if I could have another she said, "Take as many as you want. They're from HyVee. HyVee has good cookies."

And she was right. They were some of the best cookies I ever tasted.

Then I put the disc into the slot of the portable CD player I'd brought along. It was immediately obvious that she was familiar with the selections. She smiled, moved in time to the music and used her hand to tap out the rhythms on her lap.

She even knew when each piece was almost over, because she started clapping right at the last notes. And she became more vigorous with each number. She loved every one more than the one before. It was such a joy to see her exhilaration.

And what's more, I loved it, too, because I have a background in classical music. So we have that in common. I enjoy the music every bit as much as she does. It's almost as though we were destined to be paired up.

At the end of the visit she said, "I hope I see you again." Then she whispered, "But I probably won't be here. I'm going home tomorrow."

I knew full well she wasn't going home the next day, but had no intention of telling her that.

"Well, if you do go home," I said, "have a wonderful time there. But if you are still here I'll come visit you again next week."

"Oh, that would be wonderful," she said. After a couple of seconds, she repeated, "But I probably won't be here."

Then she insisted on walking with me to the front door. I moved beside her as she inched along ever so slowly, unsteadily pushing her walker down the short hallway. We shook hands then I left.

When I went the next week she was in her room.

"I'm Marie," I explained, pretty sure she wouldn't remember me. "I'm a volunteer visitor here and I've come to spend some time with you." I said.

She studied my face carefully then said with a slight hesitation, "Uh - I think I've seen you before."

"Yes, you have!" I exclaimed. "I visited you last week."

"Oh. That's marvelous," she said.

Then we got down to business - to what would soon become our special routine. I ate cookies while we listened to The Nutcracker Suite.

In fact, all of our visits are pretty much the same. She gives me cookies, then we listen to the ballet suite. I do this because I know she loves the music and won't remember we listened to it the previous time. So I don't have to think up different activities every week. When she hears the music it's as though it's the first time I've played it for her.

I so look forward to my visits with Miss Daisy. And from the smiles on her face, she does, too.

Marie Marley is the author of the award-winning "Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy," and co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of "Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers." Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers. This article first appeared on The Alzheimer's Reading Room.