It’s long been understood that music is a powerful tool in recalling memories, making connections and allowing emotion surface when it has, perhaps, become blocked. Even before I started reading scientific studies on the topic, I knew it in my bones. I’d seen the proof in my life. Now that Alzheimer’s has become one of the next big degenerative conditions that science is tackling, it’s become evident that music can be a beautifully therapeutic method for dealing with dementia, among other brain maladies.
“When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements,” says the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America website. There may not yet be a cure, but how magical that something as non-pharmacological as music is such a contender in treating this heartbreaking disease!
It was as my band-mates and I were preparing to play at a managed care facility where my mom works a couple weeks ago that I happened upon the following video. Not only is it a touching tribute to the human condition, but it shows a compelling example of what music therapy can bring to the lives of both the afflicted and the caregiver. Take a look:
After an awesome hour-long show in the main gathering space at Golden Age Manor – during which the ladies and I were treated to lots of clap-alongs, enthusiastic head nods and even one very energetic dancer – we headed to the dementia wing for a short acoustic set. We’d been looking forward to the whole day, but I have to admit I was curious to see if we’d catch a glimpse of anything resembling recognition or unexpected awareness in the eyes of our new audience. To my delight, I wasn’t disappointed.
I won’t exaggerate and say that we witnessed some big revelatory moment in the life of a previously comatose resident, but there were some pretty killer happenings in the room that afternoon. One lovely lady, clearly a lifelong member of the soprano section in her church choir, sang along with almost every song we played, regardless of whether it was familiar to her or not. She would carefully watch our lips to catch the lyrics and seemed pretty confident in her ability to do so! Her voice had the slightest tremolo, and she was excellent at harmonizing. Another, my mom pointed out discreetly as I was singing at one point, shuffled her feet to the beat of one song as we sang. Her whole body was curled in on itself in a hard little comma her wheelchair, and I don’t think she’d been verbal for awhile, so it was noteworthy to the staff that such a plainly physical reaction to the music was visible. We took pains to play songs that we thought might either be familiar to folks of that age (i.e. You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You) or were similar in tone (like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah), and I thought we’d made the right choices when I spied one man tear up on several occasions as he watched us and then let his thoughts & eyes drift away, hopefully to someplace he remembered and loved a whole lot.
The whole experience was so moving that we forgot to take any pictures! Luckily, we’ve been invited back for the kickoff of National Nursing Home Week in May, so we’ll be sure to share some images the next time. Til then, hug your older, wiser ones close and let them know how much you love and respect their long years on this planet!
First posted on the blog of Rhiannon Fiskradatz here: http://backstagecraft.blogspot.com/2015/02/music-as-therapy.html