“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.”
― Johnny Depp
I play Doris Day’s rendition of “A Bushel and a Peck” every morning when I first greet my mom. I’ll sing along with Doris and sometimes my mom joins in with me too. I don’t remember growing up with music, but I do know that my mom enjoys it now! In my quest to learn more effective ways to connect and interact with my mom, I have gathered several go-to resources, and the first one is for music.
I started following the “Singing Heart to Heart” blog after watching a webinar by Mary Sue Wilkerson. Mary Sue is all about the gift of music for people experiencing Alzheimer’s disease. She has spent literally hundreds of hours singing to older adults and spreading the word about the benefits of music in the lives of people with dementia. According to Mary Sue, singing and other musical activities can provide comfort, a sense of belonging and lift spirits.
When my mom first moved into memory care, I hooked my iPod up to shiny new red headphones and loaded it with songs I thought she would enjoy. I instructed caregivers to put the headphones on my mom and play music if she started showing signs of anxiety. It was a nice idea, but I learned that passively listening to music, in isolation, was not relaxing for my mother and did not lessen her anxiety. So I bought a book!
Mary Sue’s book, Songs You Know by Heart, comes with a CD, song lyrics and simple strategies for incorporating music into the daily routines of people with dementia. She’s given me tools for positively interacting with my mom and concrete ideas on ways to lessen her anxiety.
Now, I’m not a singer and I’m definitely not an extrovert, but I somehow manage to transform myself when I walk through the doors at Conifer House. I’ve taken Mary Sue’s words to heart that enthusiasm is what matters, not the quality of my voice. So I act silly, exaggerate my body movements, blow bubbles and encourage everyone in the room to participate. And they do! My mom and many of the residents often smile, sing along and laugh at my silly antics. They may not know my name, but they see a familiar face – someone who calls each of them by name, touches them and acknowledges their existence in this place in time.