I want to share with you an experience that touched me deeply and made me so much more aware of the power of music, both in caring for ourselves and our loved ones, and particularly in reaching those with illness that has taken them beyond the reach of words or other significant communication.
I am a singer, and often do programs in nursing homes or retirement centers. On one of these occasions, I noticed one of the residents had been wheeled in and her chair parked near me, but she was completely non-responsive, falling over to one side, head down and eyes closed through the whole first part of the program. I assumed that she wasn't really "there" and wasn't benefiting from the music. However, when I started to sing an old favorite hymn tune, "In the Garden", this woman straightened in her chair, lifted her head, opened her eyes and started to sing with me! This was such a remarkable transformation, that I was taken completely aback, and emotion choked me a bit as I grasped the implications. My assessment of her being "beyond" the activity and not present was completely wrong -- and not only did she participate, she also gave me a radiant smile as a reward!
I have found this same pattern repeated over the years, though not as dramatically as this one time, but there is a very definite and strong connection in the brain to music and this is now being researched more thoroughly. In fact, with Alzheimer's, people who can no longer communicate at all verbally, can still often sing and remember lyrics perfectly, as that is apparently in an unaffected part of memory. A recent study involved Alzheimer's patients being given iPods pre-loaded with their favorite music (according to family members and caregivers). The subjects of the study could play the music for hours, if they wished, and the results were nothing short of astounding. If this subject interests you, follow this story as presented in April on NPR at this link www.npr.org/2012/04/18/150891711/for-elders-with-dementia-music-sparks-great-awakenings
I also recommend Dr. Oliver Sacks' book, Musicophilia, for a wonderful look at the power of music and our brain. Check out his website at www.oliversacks.com/books/musicophilia
Sometimes, our tools as caregivers are all around us, simply waiting for us to recognize their power and healing properties. Experiment with your loved one, based on past experience, and fine tune your observations of their responses. You may find a treasure trove of ways to stay connected more deeply and beyond words.
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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