DEMENTIA and MUSIC
My mother had been diagnosed with dementia back in the early 1990's. As so many who deal with this disease know it is often a slow "going away" of the person we know. As my mother went deeper into the disease she lost her ability to speak. She developed expressive aphasia and spoke in "word salad". By this time my mother was a resident at an Alzheimer's care unit. One day I arrived for a visit and there was an entertainer singing some of the old songs for the residents. To my amazement I saw my mother singing the lyrics perfectly! I wondered how this was possible.
I began reading what I could find on music and the brain and learned that there is a different part of the brain involved in music and singing and that oftentimes people who have lost the ability to speak can actually sing! Years later when I completed seminary and began my work as a hospice chaplain many of the patients I was seeing had varying degrees of dementia, so I began to offer music with my visits of spiritual support . Over and over again I have had the experience of playing music and seeing a persons eyes brighten, a smile come to their face. And on many more occasions than I can count I have had people who were said to be unable to communicate or talk actually speak to me. I feel privileged to be able to do the work I do and am ever grateful to be able to offer music as comfort.
Currently there is a great deal of interest in music as treatment for dementia. So far research indicates it is more effective than most pharmacological interventions. If you would like to learn more or have a family member suffering from dementia there is a wonderful film called, "Alive Inside, A Story of Music and Memory" I would urge you to see. Here is a link to a website associated with that film: http://musicandmemory.org/