There are many theories as to why human beings evolved to play, listen to, and love music. Some think it was a way males to attract mates or for mothers to sooth children. Others think music has always been the way we communicate oral history or stay awake on guard shifts around the camp fire. One thing’s for sure, scientists have found evidence of musical instruments that are over 40,000 years old. There are specific centers of the brain that are primed to not only respond to music, but stimulate other areas of the brain and body when music is playing.
At all ages and stages of life, we as humans have a developed a profound affinity for music. Babies who have not yet learned to talk will giggle, babble, and dance when listening to their favorite songs. Anyone who has ever had a toddler knows how much little ones’ love to repeat their favorite tunes over and over. As adults, we love to turn on a song that matches our mood after a bad day or amp up a workout with a motivating playlist. And as seniors, music can help us stay in touch with our long and middle term memories, which provide much needed access to parts of the brain that often slow down or shrink with age.
All sorts of cognitive stimulation are crucial to those living with memory care disorders. That’s why many memory care facilities are carefully designed to minimize potential of confusion, to have bright, stimulating colors, or to even evoke familiar settings from residents’ pasts, like old soda shops or mid-century towns. Many who work with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients recommend surrounding those affected with familiar objects—favorite clothes, pillows, photographs, and other personal affects. Even if the senior is having trouble remembering certain details, like who is in the photo, it still has positive associations.
Because dementia and Alzheimer’s can affect language processing, memory, and the ability to handle daily routines, it can be very isolating. In addition, studies have identified self-perception of loneliness and isolation contribute to the buildup of amyloid in the brain, which is linked to dementia, linking to a lack of socialization and stimulation. That’s where music can come in. Because music is quite possibly such a huge part of the human experience because it enhances communication, emotion, and memory, it is also a great way to bridge the social gap that many with memory disorders find between themselves, loved ones, and caregivers. Caregivers of those with dementia often find themselves feeling someone isolated, too. Music can be a point of connection that eases the stress and strain for everyone involved.
Listening to a loved one’s favorite songs can literally make them feel young again, lighting up old memories, feelings, and associations. Listening to music together can also provide talking points that are free from the mundane of daily routines and medication schedules. You can dance together, draw pictures of what the lyrics and sounds make you feel or think of, or chat about the musician, the rhythm, etc. You can even sing along!
Studies and stories from memory care providers have shown that even deeply withdrawn patients can become quite animated when their favorite songs are played, sharing details and opinions about the music when they rarely speak up on any subject. While not everyone is guaranteed to have such a dramatic response, it is amazing to see how music can affect us at all stages, and the way it can bring joy to everyone from youth to seniors.
Reminiscing is wonderful for many reasons. It can help keep your memory sharp, it can be a great way to spend time with loved ones, it can ease stress, and it can take you back to days gone by. If last month’s photos of Indianapolis in the 1960s and 70s brought back happy memories, now is the time to record them for yourself or for friends and family. Perhaps a child or grandchild, or a niece or nephew might help you with your memory project.
You could record your retelling of favorite stories and reminiscences with a simple cassette recorder or cellphone app. This could have an added level of excitement if you, say, attended a historic race, interesting moments in city history, or major concerts or exhibits that your friends and family were too young for and wish they had been able to attend. The added benefit to audio or video recording is that your loved ones will also have your voice preserved for years to come.
If recording your stories doesn’t appeal to you, you can jot them down in a notebook or journal. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider writing about your favorite photos, especially if they’re of an event, family members the younger generation might not have met, from a trip you took, or set in your hometown, like the information we shared about Indianapolis decades ago. Your friends and family will love having this record and you’ll have the joy of reliving some of life’s most exciting moments.
This is especially true as younger generations are highly nostalgic and interested in how things used to be. They might like some of the same musicians that you do, be curious about your records, or want to learn a skill like knitting, crocheting, or try their hand at family recipes. Sharing these things with them is a great way to combine an activity you can do together with a chance to talk and share your memories, all while making new ones.
MorningSide of College Park is proud to offer Respite care among our services. Respite refers to short-term, temporary relief to those who are caring for family members who might otherwise require permanent placement in a facility outside the home. Respite gives family members a break and support so they can continue to take joy in providing care to their loved ones so they can remain at home.
MorningSide opened our new memory care unit, Reflections, earlier this year. “We offer respite for families who need somewhere for their loved one to be safe and cared for while they take a vacation, go to a business meeting, etc. Our respite rooms are beautifully furnished and those who participate in our program receive the same love, care and support as our residents,” said Susan Albers, the Executive Director of MorningSide of College Park.
She said families feel comfort knowing they aren’t in their situation alone. “Many families have faced the challenge of seeing a loved one decline due to dementia. There is a great deal of support, encouragement and care for both the person with dementia and his or her loved one(s) dealing with it,” Albers said.
The first step to providing compassionate care to those needing respite care is understanding what’s happening. It is such a challenge because often the people we love who become forgetful aren’t aware. The greater opportunity is understanding.
“The brain is amazing. The one thing it isn’t is a library,” Albers said. “I remember hearing a geriatrician speak one time about this. He offered the following analogy: ‘There is no Dewey Decimal System in our brain. When our brain hears a piece of information, it stores it anywhere it can find a place. As we age our brain becomes increasingly filled with all sorts of information, helpful or not. When we try to retrieve that information, it just isn’t there. Later — and it can be even hours or days — that word or name you were trying to remember suddenly pops into your mind. And you didn’t think you were still trying. It just took longer to find! All of that time your brain was searching.’”
A person’s thinking process changes when they develop dementia. “The way they understand and communicate information becomes foreign to us, so it is hard for us to accept. They find it hard to make decisions, put the correct combinations together or follow a process.”
She said some ways the staff at MorningSide can help include offering them a choice of two things (“Would you like to wear the green blouse or the yellow one?”). Or helping them make choices or cue them on a process.
“And all through this transition, we as family members and friends are grieving the person he or she once was. The journey doesn’t have to be dismal. There are wonderful times to be had… especially if you don’t try to go it alone. A lot of stress is placed on a family that is facing a loved one diagnosed with dementia. As the disease progresses it becomes a 24/7 job. However, there are great opportunities for assistance and support.”
For a list of support groups, go to www.alz.org/indiana. For information about MorningSide’s Reflections Memory Care, please call us at (317) 872-4567 or see our website at http://www.morningsideofcollegepark.com.