5 things I never knew until I sang with my alzheimer mom

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I learned and relearned a lifetime of lessons during the ten years I cared for my mom who lived with Alzheimer disease. She died on August 17, 2016. I was there; it was a blessing. She was an amazing woman.

Here are five things I “never knew” specifically related to music:

1) Golden oldies are golden for a reason

“Pinkie Patti” remembered the words to literally hundreds of songs. I learned a handful of them simply from singing them over and over and over again with her. I never dreamed I would sing Down in the Valley four or five or sometimes more times a day. But I did! I’m grateful I’ve grown to love and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of many of old tunes I previously didn’t even know existed. Want to connect with people who live with dementia? Learn the tunes they love. Simple really.

2) Music is reborn and recreated over and over

Mom didn’t “learn” to play the piano until she was 83. Here’s she is with Eric playing and singing ’Til There Was You (June 14, 2014) a song originally sung by Shirley Jones in the movie The Music Man (I remember watching it on TV as a child!), and which was later covered by The Beatles:

The lyrics are at the bottom of the post; it’s one of my favourite “Pinkie Patti” tunes.

3) How well one sings doesn’t matter

I never used to sing in public. Ever! I sang in the shower, and in the car with the radio on full blast, but only when I was alone. I still don’t know how to sing really, but it doesn’t matter much anymore. What mattered when I sang with Mom (which was every day for five years until two days before she died), it helped her to remember the words and encouraged her to sing too. Singing with her was an important way to keep her language skills alive and to keep her connected to something she loved, as well as engaged with live. The power of music is unparalleled in helping many people who live with dementia.

In the video below, Mom and I sing My Wild Irish Rose on June 12, 2014. Unfortunately, her ability to fully engage with the music and her surroundings was noticeably dulled by the antipsychotic medications she was being given. The bruise around her left eye was sustained from a fall, another result of the antipsychotic medication. It’s proven that reducing the use of antipsychotic medications in elderly people has multiple benefits including reducing falls.

4) A little bit of music delivers a whole lot of healing

When I first began to care for Mom full time in 2011 we listened to her favourite Nat King Cole album virtually every day. We danced by the fireplace in her den to Send for Me  and we sang Mona Lisa more times than I can count. Those are beautiful memories. During the decade I cared for Mom in various ways, I witnessed the healing power of music during sessions which have brought both Mom and myself great joy. Not only did Mom enjoy the sessions in the moment, she was also more alert, more engaged and happier afterward. The healing power of music is well documented. Here are ten specific ways to use it with dementia.

5) Music is deeply embedded in our psyches/memories

They say hearing is one of the last things we lose in the process of dying, and that people who appear completely unaware in the final days before death can still hear and comprehend what is being said around them. During our healing piano sessions with Eric, I saw music unlock memories, language skills and lyrics that would otherwise be unavailable to Mom, so I know from personal experience how deeply music is rooted in our core.

I’m so grateful for the role music played in helping me to bring moments of joy into Mom’s life, even when she become less and less able to enjoy other aspects of this world. I say with her up until two days before she died. I never knew…

“There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
Till there was you!”

I never knew…

 

’Til There Was You

There were bells on the hill
But I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all
‘Til there was you.

There were birds in the sky
But I never saw them winging
No, I never saw them at all
‘Til there was you.

And there was music,
And there were wonderful roses,
They tell me,
In sweet fragrant meadows of dawn, and dew.

There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
‘Til there was you!

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10 Comments

  1. Oh, I am so sorry for your loss! I want to thank you for taking me and many others on this journey with you and your mom. I feel privileged to have known her through you. Blessings and Peace to you and to your mom.

    • Thanks Karen, I’ve got plenty more stories to share and will continue to do so to honour my mom, her fierce spirit and the journey she and I navigated in her final years. I’ve only just begun <3

  2. Lorrie Beauchamp on

    This is so true with my parents…my Dad sometimes sobs when I play his favourite old tunes, as if he’s visiting a familiar yet heartbreaking past. My Mom will get up and dance with him, and they turn and twist together as they have for over 60 years. It would be a mistake to imagine them doing this with a lot of animated joy; they do it woodenly and haltingly, as they try to reconnect with their old memories. It’s beautiful, of course, because it makes them feel young again and it takes them back to a time when the future was infinite. It distracts them from the daily challenges they face, and lights up a part of their brain that is mercilessly unaffected.

    Thank you for sharing these touching videos. As you say, Susan, music is a simple solution. And a universal one. The show must go on!

  3. I always enjoy seeing you engaging with your mom. I hope I too can be as strong around the people with dementia that I meet.

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