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Alzheimer’s and Singing

Music has power—especially for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

Alicia Ann Clair, from the Alzheimer’s Foundation website

I’ve watched the videos and read the articles.  I know there is a link, that music connects where the rest of the world does not, but for my mother, this was a frustrating discovery because my mother didn’t act like the people in the videos.

In the earlier days, when she was still living at home, both my sister and I tried bringing music into the home.  Since church had been an important part of her life, my sister found beautiful recordings of the old hymns and sent them along.  I played all kinds of music:  hymns, folk, and classical.  She rarely paid attention to it.  More often she walked out of the room.  Or commented on the “noise.”

The only consistent exception was the singing of “Johnny Appleseed,” a little song my family sings instead of grace before each meal.  If we sang it with my mother, she always joined in, and she always teared up.  It touched something in her heart.

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Yesterday was her birthday.  Lately, I’ve been making cinnamon rolls for people’s birthdays.  So, I made cinnamon rolls and brought one to my mother, with a candle she could blow out.

We lit the candle and sang to her. “Happy Birthday to you.  Happy Birthday to you.”

Hannah and Grace sang, “Happy Birthday,  dear Grammie…”

I sang, “Happy Birthday, dear Mom…”

My father inserted her name.

My mother stopped when she got to that part. She looked confused, and her watery eyes met mine with a definite question in them.

Fortunately, the song didn’t end there.  We all sang together, my mother included, the final, “Happy Birthday to you!”

As is our tradition, we clapped and cheered for her, celebrating her life and her birthday.  She smile awkwardly, unsure what to do next.

The candle was burning away in the cinnamon roll. “Go ahead and blow the candle out, Mom,” I told her.

She looked at me.  I repeated it, “Blow the candle out!”

She smiled, but made no move to blow out the candle.  I pointed to the little flame dancing in front of her. “Blow it out,” I said for the third time, pursing up my lips to show her what I meant.

She leaned forward, and…

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straightened up the candle.

We did finally get her to blow it out, but I had stand behind her, holding the bowl up close.

As we were leaving, Hannah commented, “Grammie sang with us.”

“Yes, she did.  She loves to sing,” I agreed.

My father joined in, “She does love to sing.  She always loves the sing-alongs they have down here.  And I love to hear her sing.”

It dawned on me that, for my mother, the connection isn’t in listening to music, but in participating by singing.  I wish I was a better singer, because then I could go sing with her every time I visit.

Maybe I’ll go ahead and do that anyway.

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3 comments on “Alzheimer’s and Singing

  1. catterel
    April 17, 2013

    A friend who visits elderly dementia patients has had very positive reactions to a musical quiz, where she sings one line from an old song and asks the people to identify it e.g. “The happy little bluebirds fly …” They almost all join in and sing the whole song through, sometimes several times, with great enjoyment. There are about 10 songs in the quiz and she can do the same quiz over and over again with the group, as they don’t remember from one visit to the next what they sang last time.

    • sarahlangdon
      April 17, 2013

      What a great idea! Maybe I’ll make up my own musical quiz for my mother.

  2. Alyssa
    April 17, 2013

    My grandmother had a roommate who kept her singing through her dementia, long after her mind had lost almost everything else. It was amazing how she could just rip right into an old hymn my dad didn’t even recognize, but she had no idea who any of her family members were. God made something incredibly powerful when he made music.

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2013 by in Family conversation, Postaday 2013 and tagged , , , , , .

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