By Beth Pinyerd
The past two years we have gone through some challenges in life, but music has brought us happiness, hope and joy. March is recognized as Music Involvement Month. Music is an intergenerational enjoyment. Music education is shared in the schools this month with music, movement, dance, poems and stories put to music.
Children love to hum, sing or even have a happy baby gurgling which indicates a child is happy. Children love to make music.
Infants love to hear their parents and teachers sing to them. As infants recognize their parents and caregivers’ voices, this is a way of bonding. Our toddlers and twos are great imitators, they love to listen and do songs that involve motions with their hands and feet. Preschool age children enjoy music just for music. They love to sing and hum when they are playing or doing their jobs.
I have shared my heart and thoughts on the importance of music for those of us who are aging. I would like to share my thoughts again on how music truly helps my precious sweet friends who have different forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Our community does such a wonderful job in addressing this in our different facilities and county programs.
In my years as an activity volunteer, I absolutely love to sit down with groups of my senior friends and learn about “The Good Old Days”. We discuss current events, history, seasons, family and poems during our sit and chats. We laugh at many seasonal jokes as well. As I facilitate the conversation, I glance around at some of my long time senior friend who has a distant stare in their eyes. As I pray, I ask, how can I enrich the quality of life for my senior friends who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?
I quickly reflect back to the very sweet relation I had with my late grandmother “Nanny”, Lillie Mae Jones, who was so active in her outreach of love to her family, church and community. Nanny took time to teach me how to play the piano and sing in her home. As a child, she told me singing and music would always lift my spirits and make me happy. Even when I have felt blue, music has been my happy therapy.
As my grandmother grew older in her 80s, I, as a young adult, realized my grandmother seemed to be distant and couldn’t remember things when she and I would talk. But the one connection I had with her was through the music she had taught me. Nanny remembered every word in the hymns we sang together. She may not have remembered my name, but she still remembered Jesus’ name.
Listen sometime to Melody Goodman’s song, sung by The Booth Brothers “She still Remembers Jesus’ Name” As children or grandchildren of parents or grandparents who have dementia, listening to this song will encourage your heart. Being around young children awaken the senses of happiness and joy with my senior friends. Both generations love music.
One thing that I have closely observed with my senior friends who have dementia is that even if their eyes are closed, that their minds and motions come alive when we are singing. The activity professionals who I volunteer with put on different kinds of music to engage and entertain the residents, to calm and uplift the moods of residents, as well as manage the stress that an elderly person may have with dementia. Alzheimer’s and dementia destroy a person’s ability to remember experiences in a person’s life, of family or friends but the memory of music seems to survive the destruction of this disease.
For seniors who have different forms of dementia there are so many different kinds of music you can play on CD’s, karaoke, piano or just singing.
If you are a caregiver for family members who have dementia, try to remember what their favorite songs were. You may have to ask older family members if you don’t know.
When I am planning programs as an activity volunteer on music favorites from the past, I go to my computer and type in favorite songs from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and on up. The websites that come up when you do this are full of favorite “hits” from the different eras. Some websites provide audio so you can listen to a brief sample of the tune. Lyrics to different songs are provided on the different websites too.
The library is a wonderful resource of checking out CD’s, DVD’s and recordings of songs from the past. The librarians in our local libraries have been so very helpful in supplying the musical resources I need for different activity programs. Local libraries will help caregivers find what they need.
In activity programs where I have reached out to seniors, when we have birthday parties or socials we put on happy music from the past that our seniors are familiar with. These are fun songs that bring up significant reflections of the past to your loved ones who have dementia. Traditional songs of different eras promote group unity. Happy memory songs also encourage clapping, toe tapping and other kinds of movement for those who suffer from dementia. This promotes physical exercise, which is needed for good health.
When a day is winding down, choosing calm, soothing music calms dementia sufferers. In an evening program I have done, we sang every verse of “Red Sails In the Sunset” by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams. When it is raining, we sing “Pennies from Heaven” by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke and other calm songs from the past. Calm songs seem to reduce a lot of anxiety that dementia sufferers face in the evening.
One truth that I hear caregivers of dementia sufferers say over and over is that their “loved one is still there” and that music is one way that they can connect. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may not disappear but the quality of life can be enhanced by music.
I know that this is just “the tip of the iceberg” of help that family and caregivers who are afflicted by dementia and Alzheimer’s can receive for their love ones. Truly minds of the young and old are alive with the sound of music.