MUSIC IS A MIRACLE FOR ALZHEIMER'S PATIENTS (AND THEIR CAREGIVERS)
In my experience as a singer working specifically with residents in memory care, I have repeatedly seen an almost miraculous "awakening" that occurs when carefully chosen music is sung live with the people who have memory deficits from Alzheimer's or other cognitive decline. It is still, after witnessing it time after time for the past 7+ years, so incredibly moving. I have seen people who are wheelchair-bound and basically unresponsive, lift their head up, open their eyes and begin singing with me. Often staff and family also react to this "awakening" as miraculous, when they see the person still inside and able to respond, sometimes even when they don't know their own name or recognize family anymore. It's a gift of connection that is so precious and amazing! This very powerful aspect of music triggers memories stored in a different part of the brain, usually the last affected. And when it can be activated, the positive effects last for a while, bringing joy to both the individual and their caregiver/family.
There are also some excellent programs (MusicandMemory.org) which use the same concept but with technology instead of a live singer. That also has merit and proven benefit to the listener, however, in seeing responses to both live and recorded music, the hands-down best is the live performance because of the vital human connection and interaction with the singer. And, of course, a singer can custom design programs for specific groups or individuals and be responsive to changing them upon getting feedback as to which songs are best received. There is also the aspect of giving eye contact, a warm smile, a touch on the arm, and the energy of the song.
When you take into account that most people living in memory care have a full 95% of their time idle, aside from activities of daily living, having a musical "intervention" be it live or through technology can increase connection, quality of life and joy for those living with Alzheimer's Disease or other dementia.
For those caring for a loved one at home, music can provide a welcome stimulation and connection via watching favorite musicals on video or streamed, and through the use of a device which can create a custom playlist, such as iTunes or YouTube Music, Amazon Music, etc. The creation of a highly personalized list of favorite songs is essential. Finding just the ones that produce the greatest "happiness effect" and bring pleasant memories back is the goal. Also, if you can add stimulation for other senses, such as photos for visual memory stimulation, and objects for tactile interest -- jewelry, memento from a trip, any other object that has happy memories attached, the effect is multiplied.
I highly encourage caregivers, both family and professional, to explore the amazing possibilities and power of music and memory!
I recently came across this very informative video by Dr. Oliver Sacks, a leading expert in the fields of music and neurology. He explains very succinctly how beneficial music is for people with cognitive decline and memory loss, such as for Alzheimer's patients. I have seen this borne out time and again using in-person singing for those in Memory Care. It's truly astounding that some can be reached through music, even though they have lost language skills and most of their autobiographical memory. Check it out.
To all of the amazing caregivers, family and professional, in hospitals, nursing homes, or elsewhere who have been literally risking their health, their very lives and well-being, this is a tribute and salute to you. May you always be aware of the deep gratitude and admiration so strongly felt by all of us for your dedication, caring hearts and sacrifice to help our nation conquer COVID-19.
Blessing for Caregivers written by Karen Bonnell, Music: Stuart Shelton, from the CD Music Dimensions, available on Amazon.com
"Be excessively gentle with yourself." ~John O'Donohue
This is undeniably, incredibly hard. I was a caregiver for my mother for 17 years, and we weathered multiple hurricanes and hospital stays, pneumonia, falls, and other assorted emergencies, but never a pandemic. During the last months of her life, my mother was in a nursing home and they had an outbreak of flu so bad that they closed to everyone in order to contain it. As irony would have it, I caught the flu there and was then unable to go back to visit my mother for 8 of the longest weeks of my life. So, I do have the very deepest empathy for any family member who is separated from their loved one during this crisis. Unable even to say goodbye. It's heartbreaking, deeply distressing and emotionally devastating. My tears have flowed with those of family members sitting outside the nursing home window with their loved on on the other side.
I cannot really imagine how difficult it is to navigate this crisis, but I would say to anyone caught in this cauldron of fear, pain, helplessness -- keep your focus on what you CAN do -- express your love and be present in any way possible. Use a phone call or video chat or a greeting card or photo held up to a window -- whatever works in your particular circumstance, do your best. And know in your own heart that you are doing the best anyone can in an impossible situation. Try to keep yourself calm and centered by any means -- prayer, deep breathing, meditation, yoga are all valuable helps. Know that others are with you in spirit, praying for your strength and safety. Be at peace. Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Well, fast forward seven years from my last post on this subject. It got sort of lost in the busyness of life, but now the research and support for various types of meditation, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction and kirtan kriya have a much broader base of information to bolster the early claims.
I am creating a link to a Youtube video I found for doing this simple 12-minute (or so) meditation which involves chanting or singing four syllables: SA TA NA MA. First, you sing them aloud for 2 minutes, then you whisper them for 2 minutes, then silently say them for 4 minutes, then whisper again for 2 minutes, then aloud again for 2 minutes. The music and voice will keep you on track so you don't have to time anything. While doing the above, you sit in whatever way is comfortable for you, close your eyes and touch your index finger, middle finger, ring finger and pinky to your thumbs as you sing, whisper or silently repeat the four syllables. The image in the video demonstrates this.
Now, I know this is a little bit "out there" for some of my readers, but, hey--is improving your cognition and strengthening the hippocampus of your brain to help prevent Alzheimer's worth 12 minutes a day of your time? Try it for 6 weeks and see if you notice a difference. I'd love to hear your feedback!
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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