My mom has Alzheimer’s. I can no longer communicate with her. But every time I visit her dementia unit in Ohio, I sing to her.
Growing up, I remember mom singing all the time. In church, in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, at home on our piano, going about her everyday life. And singing me to sleep every night. She was the reason I became a musician.
So, when I am with her now, I sing, I play ukulele, I lead music time in the recreation room, and we listen to old musicals and Handel’s Messiah, one of her favorites. And mom sings back. She hums all day. Her sentences begin rationally, turn to randomness, and end up as song.
The part of her brain (the left side) where language lives has been damaged, but mom still reacts, responds to and participates when there is music.
I am not an expert in Alzheimer’s research, but I know what I have experienced with my mother. On my last visit, a nurse’s aide was leading the dementia patients in a sing along of old favorites. One of the most lucid comments my mother made during this visit was, “She can’t carry a tune,” referring to the aide. And she said this three times!
I asked the aide if she had another song sheet so I could follow along, and she happily turned over the song-leading to me. (Just try to keep a Kindermusik teacher from singing!) The group joined me happily in song, most of them remembering every word of their old favorite tunes.
Afterwards, I asked mom if I was on pitch, to which she said, “most of the time.” Well, she always was a perfectionist! For the rest of the day, I heard her singing, “Take me Out to the Ballgame.” Those were some of my happiest moments in an otherwise difficult time.
-posted by Miss Judy, who says, “My mother’s name is Annabelle, and she has always had a beautiful voice.”
Here is an article from someone who is an expert, and the author of several wonderful books about the brain, and an amazing video of a man who is revitalized with music.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology & Psychiatry, Columbia University
Where I work at a hospital and at a number of old age homes, there are a lot of people who have Alzheimer’s or other dementias of one sort or another. Some of them are confused, some are agitated, some are lethargic, some have almost lost language. But all of them, without exception, respond to music. This is especially true of old songs and songs they once knew. Read more…