The Hillside Piano Player

July 30, 2012
Chris Perna, The Eden Alternative Blog

Sandra Wood, the activity coordinator for Hillside Residential Care Home in Swansea, England attended the Eden Associate course taught by our Regional Coordinators for UK and Ireland, June Burgess and Paul Bailey. According to Sandra, this is what happened when she returned to work.

“After spending a few days with June and Paul learning about the Eden Alternative I was full of enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to get back and try and put it into practice and see if it really does make a difference. I had a lady in our home that I had in mind that I wanted to try and break down the barriers. This lady was already starting to be labelled as having behavioural problems. She would not allow us to have any interaction with her at all. She would hardly speak, just saying yes, no to questions like ‘would you like a cup of tea’. Her personal hygiene was non-existent. She would push you away and sometimes would get aggressive towards the carers. She would sit all day slumped in the chair sitting in her own urine and faeces, refusing assistance, and on several occasions refusing to go to bed. Other residents would move away from her because of the smell. The more we tried with her the more she would block us out. Her son’s visits would be very upsetting for him. His Mum wouldn’t even look at him. It would be just silence. So this lady was going to be my experiment to see if the Eden Alternative, as they say, really did what it says on the tin.

My starting point was to find out more about this lady. I spoke to her son who told me that his Mum had been a concert pianist and that music was a big part of her childhood and adult life. One morning after breakfast I sat next to this lady and started talking to her; the usual good morning, how are you, have you had enough to eat, etc. I had no response. I then started talking to her about the piano we had at the home and how it was a shame that it wasn’t played enough and that I had been told that she plays and how her Dad and brother also played musical instruments. She instantly responded to me. She sat up looked at me and said ‘I haven’t played for years and I’ve heard that one and it’s out of tune.’ Which made me smile and for the first time since she’d been in our home I saw her smile. We carried on chatting and I asked her if she would be so kind as to teach me to play the piano. Her reply was that it will cost you and you will have to practice your scales for two years. She then showed me on the table in front of her how to place my fingers to do the scales. I copied her and when I did it wrong she let me know.

We carried on like this for several days so I asked her if she would show me on the piano, which she did. It progressed from there to her playing short pieces of music and Christmas carols for which she always had a round of applause from the other residents, which pleased her very much. She is now a different lady. She will allow us to assist her with her personal hygiene, she chooses her own clothes and chats to carers, asks for the toilet – a complete turnaround.

Her son is delighted. He was a little puzzled when I told him that his mother needed a new pair of glasses. What for, he asked, she doesn’t read, she doesn’t do anything. I said she needed them to be able to read music. He was astonished that after many years she had started playing the piano again.

We now have a friendship and she talks to me about her childhood and some funny stories about what she and her brother got up to. There are some days when she wants to be left alone and seems to be a bit grumpy, but hey, don’t we all? I’ve had my proof that the Eden Alternative is the way forward.”

Sandra can be reached at Sandra Wood (


1 Comment. Leave new

Wow Sandra! Well done – a fantastic testimony to patience, time and heartfelt connecting! Amazing! Goosebump stuff!


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