Music, Memory, and Dementia

Over the years I’ve heard some great stories about music’s power to help dementia patients communicate. A friend who does music therapy once sang a spiritual to an African American patient who hadn’t spoken in months. To her surprise, the woman stood up and started talking. Another professional caregiver told our support group how she used a Christmas carol to help a mute dementia patient sing again.

Music seems to be one of the last skills stolen by the disease. Adding song to the care routine may be helpful. Our family has always been very musical. My dad was a well-known singer in our community. Both my sister and I sang in the church choir and played the piano. Mom, however, was usually too shy to let her voice be heard. Yet somehow, over the past few years, that situation has changed.

One night last winter, I was driving my mother to Philadelphia to visit my sister. It was windy and cold and Christmas carols dominated the radio. Suddenly, Mom began to sing along in this operatic voice I’d never heard before. It wasn’t exactly Maria Callas, but she stayed on key the whole time (a real achievement for mom) and she remembered all the words.

Since then I’ve made sure to include music as part of our daily routine. When she eats breakfast, I play the classical station. Later in the day, I switch to rock and roll. Sometimes we’re inspired to dance. Right now we’re in the carol mode. Today a friend sent a link to this article about The Unforgettables, a chorus in New York that unites dementia patients and their caregivers in song. Check  out their story. It may inspire you to sing more during this season of music, memories, and small miracles.

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