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!
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!
2/19/2018 0 Comments
Please enjoy this excerpt from my book, Sanity Savers: For Caregivers at the End of Their Rope. This is the humorous story of the Pantyhose Principle: asking for help when you truly need it.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a young maid who cut her thumb doing something too stupid to mention here, and had to have microsurgery to reattach the nerve, requiring her right (primary) arm to be in a cast from fingertips up past the elbow for weeks. This was an amazingly annoying daily trial, causing the young maid endless aggravation and helplessness in doing even the basic activities of daily living -- particularly personal grooming. All the things one takes completely for granted, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, showering and blow-drying hair became monumental challenges, exercises in logistics and planning. Now, picture this young maid trying to put on a pair of pantyhose with her left hand only; never mind why! It seemed necessary at the time. See her rolling around on the bed, breaking into a sweat and uttering some unladylike words with the supreme effort. See her husband rolling on the floor laughing as he watched. Of course, this only fueled the young maid’s fierce determination to do this silly task herself! Imagine her chagrin to have to admit defeat, swallow her pride, what little was left, and humbly ask for help before he lost consciousness from laughing too hard.
Alas, finally, with his help I, er, the young maid was wearing the pantyhose in the right places. 'Twas a very tough, humiliating lesson. Ergo, the wisdom of the Pantyhose Principle emerged.
This is a true story and reflects in a humorous way the challenges one can face as a caregiver, too. The lesson here is to just stop struggling so hard and ask for help. Simple, but NOT easy! Most caregivers start out feeling they must handle everything on their own and may find it difficult to reach out for help, but I hope you will remember the Pantyhose Principle if you are at a decision point. To avoid burnout, and provide better care, (plus keep your sanity safely intact) be attuned to when you are reaching a point of no return and ask for help.
Are you at the end of your caregiving rope? You can tie a knot and hang out there, swing back and forth, or learn how to make a hammock of support for yourself and your care receiver. Sanity Savers is a new e-book to support caregivers with practical tips, gentle self-care and self-nurturing techniques and a healthy dose of humor, to make life less of a struggle and more a loving learning experience. Learn how to live with high-level wellness and practice safe sanity, starting now...
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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