While I have written about the importance of music and singing in dementia care in the past, I really don't think I have emphasized the importance enough.
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There is no doubt in my mind that singing improved my mother's attitude and behavior. Importantly, I believe it helped her keep more attached to the real world as we know it.
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Dr. Rudy Tanzi (Harvard, Massachusetts General, Cure Alzheimer's Fund) once told me that most people consume music from the ages of 12 to 28. In other words, this is the music they like best, sing the most, and remember. The key word here is remember. Alzheimer's patients can remember songs even when they can no longer remember what happened a few minutes ago.
My mom, Dotty, started singing after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. After she started singing I asked my brother and sister if they had ever heard my mother sing? They both said no, only in church.
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1. There is scientific evidence that singing and listening to music improves mood, behavior and memory in dementia patients.
2. As Tanzi also pointed out the ability to remember music is the last thing that goes in the brains of dementia patient patients.
3. Tanzi also pointed out that we often have strong emotions attached to music and songs. All of us, including dementia patients, remember best those memories that have emotion attached to them.
Maybe you remember some of these things that happened a long time ago: your first kiss, the prom, when your loved one proposed to you, and just about anything good or bad that has strong emotions attached to it. Go ahead give it a try: what do you remember from high school? Can you visualize this memory in your mind (brain). Is the memory vivid.
4. Go ahead sing a song from the time when you were in high school or college. How does the song make you feel? You are feeling something aren't you? Happiness? Love? You are likely feeling some emotions.
5. Alzheimer's patients even if they never played an instrument or sang before can sing. And, they can remember songs from their young adulthood, or early adult hood.
6. Go find the music. Get the music from the era that your loved one liked best. I used the music channel from the cable music channel that worked best. Lo and behold every once in a while Dotty would start singing away. I noticed every time that she seemed happier, more content, and most importantly more there.
7. I believe the cumulative effects of music and singing lead to happier dementia patients. By cumulative effect I mean that over time their mood and behavior improves. To me, it seemed that the look of awareness on Dotty's face improved. This lead me to believe that it helped her memory.
One night Dotty started singing a song that I had never heard before in my life. She sang it beautifully. After a little research I learned that the song, A Ghost of a Chance, was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1932. Dotty first sang it to me in 2010. Here is an interesting article I wrote that described our experience.
Go watch Dotty sing. Notice around the one minute mark I ask Dotty if she is going to sing. She says, No. Then I sing the first few words and she starts singing away.
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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR).The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.
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Rudy TanziTime Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. Professor of Neurology and holder of the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Neurology at Harvard University.