Sharing magical moments of music

Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times – July 2009

Music is a unique language, a special form of communication. We appreciate music even when we don’t understand it. Music is a language of the heart; it reaches us in an extraordinary way, unlike other forms of communication.

The first loss we associate with Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss. Gradually many patients lose the ability to communicate with words. However, it is not unusual to watch people with significant memory loss sing the words to a song familiar to them from their past.

Many residences catering to individuals with dementia use music therapy as a wonderful resource to calm agitated patients.

Particular types of music bring different emotional reactions from each individual. Memories we associate with old familiar songs may take us back to happy, exciting or perhaps sadder times. This is no different for people with dementia. Music therapy enhances their lives.

A simple way to share time with your loved one is to sing old and familiar songs with them. No one will care whether you can carry a tune. It is not unusual to see a group of cognitively impaired people singing the words of old time songs, words lost to their every day speech. Such songs as You Are My Sunshine, or My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean are familiar tunes heard in recreational centres for people with Alzheimer’s. I remember watching my mother singing Yiddish songs to her sibling, songs that they had sung in their childhood. It was easy to spot the sparkle of recognition in the eyes of her loved one.

Music brings people together and is a wonderful activity to share with someone who no longer communicates easily with words. Try singing with your loved one; buy some CDs with music from the olden days; have music playing in the background as a calming comfort to someone living with confusion.