Tag Archive | music

The Power of Music and Memories in The Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

Music Memories Dementia Alzheimer's DiseaseI’ve always tracked time through music. I can hear a song and go back with photographic accuracy and precision to the exact time, the exact place, the exact month, and the exact year that I either first heard it or when it made such an impact on me that I’ll never forget it.

Usually these jaunts will prompt me to walk back through other times and places in my life – perhaps to test my own cognition – to see if I still remember them with the same level of accuracy with regard to details and precision (even down to wallpaper and house layouts in each of the many houses we lived in growing up). So far, so good.

But yesterday afternoon I heard a song that took me back to almost five years ago – July 12, 2010, to be exact – and hit me with the same effect it did when I heard it that morning.

Unexpected tears began to fall as I relived that memory and the memory I relived that day that took me even further back in time, way before dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease came to take my mom and me through its journey together.

On Sunday, July 11, 2010, in the very wee hours of the morning, my mom had the psychotic meltdown that would land her in a geriatric psychiatric hospital for almost two weeks and that would give me the grim diagnosis that she was in the mid-to-late stages of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

When my phone rang at 7:15 a.m. that Sunday morning, I already knew it was about Mama. The week before had been insane – with wild and dramatic mood swings, mostly negative, with each one getting more dire, and out-of-the-ballpark suspicion and paranoia – so I knew we were coming to a point where something was going to break.

Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure it wasn’t going to be me first. I was restless, anxious, unable to sleep that Saturday night, and as I paced and prayed, I kept telling God He needed to do something because there was nothing left that I could do to help Mama.

And He answered those prayers. I wasn’t at all surprised when the voice on the other end of that early morning call identified herself as someone from one of the psychiatric hospitals in the area. She said that Mama had been brought into the emergency room around 3:30 that morning (Mama had called 911) and they had determined that she needed to go to the only geriatric psychiatric hospital in the area. 

The lady on the phone ask me if it was okay to involuntarily commit Mama. I said the only thing I knew to say at that point: “Absolutely.”

She then told me the procedure for going over and changing it to a voluntary commitment by me, told me what to pack for her, and told me that Mama would be there by early afternoon.

I hung up, surprised, but not surprised, my mind racing about what I needed to do that day and what I was looking at needing to do within the next couple of weeks. It was all a little overwhelming, but I tackled the tangible stuff first that I didn’t have to think about.

I went over to Mama’s apartment in the independent retirement community she had decided to move to, without ever discussing it with me, five years earlier. I opened the door and decided to pack the bag I needed for her, clean up, and make sure there was nothing pressing I needed to take care of.

I packed Mama’s bag, labeling all her clothes so that they wouldn’t disappear. Then I decided to clean the apartment, make her bed, and do a thorough inspection of everything.

In the midst of cleaning (the refrigerator, which I tried to keep an eye on, but which I’d not been able to since she had pretty much banned me from her apartment the last couple of weeks before that, made me wonder how she had not killed herself with some of the science experiments that were in there), I found a notebook that she’d accused me of stealing two days before, hidden behind the only place I did not look when searching for it the day she told me that I’d better leave because she’d called the police to come and arrest me.

I shook my head as tears rolled down my cheek for my mom. I found a couple of bills that needed to be paid, so I took them home to pay. I knew even then that she would not be able to come back to that apartment to live, so I got on her computer and sent emails to her friends and let them know she wouldn’t be back on (no details), then unplugged the cable modem (I had been paying for her internet service) to take back to the cable company the next day.

Once everything was clean, I got Mama’s bag and her purse and the important papers I needed, and anything else valuable to take with me, and left to do the rest of what needed to be done that day.

The next morning, Monday, April 12, 2010, I began the day’s to-do list with returning the cable modem and stopping the service for Mama and having that taken off my bill. Everything was still surreal, although I was going through the motions, taking care of the things I could before the first visit I could have with Mama at noon.

On the way back from the cable company, I turned on the radio and this song came on:

Immediately, my mind went back to when I was little and Mama had the radio on all the time and we heard this song in the mix of the music that was played. I thought of those carefree days and when Mama was healthy and then all the music and summer days we’d had since then played like a movie through my memory.

Then I got to the present and I was sobbing. Not only for the past, but for the reality of the knowledge that we’d never be able to go back there again. I was crying for what we’d lost for good.

That was the song I heard yesterday. It took me right back to being in that car face-to-face with a new reality for Mama and me, reminding me again of that trip down memory lane that I had taken (and which I took again yesterday). And unexpected tears streamed down my face again.

I’ve had a hard time listening to “Mama” songs since her death. For the most part, I’ve avoided them like the plague because they evoke such a strong emotional/memory response in me and my mind and my heart get consumed with a grief I can’t stop and I can’t contain.

I don’t know exactly why this song prompted and prompts such a strong emotional reaction in me. There are no concrete, specific memories, other than the one five years ago, attached to it.

There are many other songs that I do have concrete and specific memories of Mama and me attached to: U2’s “In God’s Country,” The Commodores’ “Easy,” and Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” are among them.

Maybe “Chrystal Blue Persuasion” is just a demarcation song for me and that is why it is so powerful. It encapsulates a childhood I miss, a mom who was at the top of her game, and a world and a time I’ll never have in again in this life. Maybe that’s all it is. And maybe that’s enough.

My advice? Embrace the music. Embrace the memories. And embrace the tears.

Because that means you had – and have – love.

And that is most precious thing we take, not just through, but beyond, this journey we walk through with our loved ones.



The Importance of Fitness and Exercise for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

exercise and fitness for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer's DiseaseExercise and fitness are important aspects of life and are beneficial for everyone, but particularly for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias.

There has been significant research that shows that leading a life that is physically active and includes regular exercise can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

People who exercise regularly have improved levels of general cardiovascular health, stronger bones and, therefore, a reduced risk of osteoporosis. They also tend to sleep better at night and have improved strength and balance, which can reduce the fall risks for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercise has other wonderful health benefits too. Any level of regular physical exercise can have a positive impact on emotional health.

Exercise may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, a common condition in our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, particularly in the early steps of the journey through these diseases.

Exercise can be beneficial with depression symptoms because it releases endorphins and other mood-enhancing brain chemicals. And even if our loved ones have reduced mobility or are in the middle-to-late steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, there are still ways to incorporate regular exercise into their daily routines.

Listed below are a few simple exercises for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercises Using A Chair

Seated exercises are ideal for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease since they tend to have stability issues. Additionally, chair exercises are a great way to begin getting more physically active if our loved ones haven’t been for a while.

Seated exercises can help to build and maintain essential muscle strength and balance, but they are much less strenuous than standing exercises and reduce the risk of falls and/or injuries.

It’s important to use a sturdy chair with a back (I would recommend one that’s roomy with arms to prevent our loved ones from falling off sideways) for seated exercises and for us to be close by to assist if need be.

With our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s important to take the time to do these exercises at their pace. This includes taking the extra time to patiently coach – without expecting perfection in execution or repetition, with “good enough” done safely being “great.”

It would be ideal to begin each exercise session by breathing in as deeply as possible and then breathing out gently (if our loved ones are able to lift their arms to the side while doing this, it will help increase lung capacity, but if not, that’s okay).

We may have to coach and show our loved ones how to do this, doing the breathing exercises with them to encourage them to follow our example. Repeat this up to a maximum of ten times.

1st exercise (shoulder rolls): Lift the left shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Then, lift the right shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Alternate between the left and right shoulder up to ten times.

2nd exercise (neck strength): In the same sitting position, tilt the head back. Following the same breathing pattern as before, breathe in as the head is tilted back, then breathe out the head moves forward. Then, breath in as the head is turned to the left and breath out as the head is turned to the right. Repeat, alternating between back and forth and left and right up to ten times.

3rd exercise (sitting march): Pace can be as slow or fast as is comfortable. Lift the right knee up and breathe in; put that same foot down and breathe out. Repeat the same process with your left leg. Alternate between left leg and right leg up to twenty times.

4th exercise (leg stretches): Extend the left leg fully, breathing in as it’s extended, and breathing out as it is bent. Repeat with right leg. Alternate between left and right legs up to ten times.

5th exercise (ankles): Cross the left leg over the right leg, and rotate the left foot. Then, cross the right leg over the left leg, and rotate the right foot. Alternate between left and right foot, breathing rhythmically throughout, up to ten times.

Exercising to Music

In the early steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, our loved ones may be able to do slightly more strenuous exercises around the home, such as gardening, walking up and down the stairs or even dancing.

Exercising to music can make the activity a much more enjoyable experience. Since listening to music can also be beneficial in many ways for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, incorporating music into daily activities like exercise makes perfect sense in our overall care strategy.

going gentle into that good night divider

This is a guest post by Helen Bowden, fitness trainer and nutritionist with experience in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease 

The Power of Music: Soothing, Calming and Connecting with Our Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementias

“And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.”
I Samuel 16:23 (NKJV)

Music universally touches the soul. There is abundant evidence of how effectively music calms, soothes, and relieves the frustration and anxiety of those loved ones among us who, because of neurology and/or biology, are unable to always fully verbalize their needs and responses to our desire to meet them.

We grew up in home filled with music. Although neither of my parents was a musician – and they had only a 33% success rate of their children becoming musicians – they loved music. They had an eclectic and surprising, at times, range of tastes and genres. So from our earliest memories, music became the a mainstay of our lives.

My mom was the musical adventurer in our family, embracing and exposing us kids to a rich landscape that remains for us even though Mom and Dad are gone. I think I was the inheritor of Mom’s legacy, though, because my musical journey has always looked and looks much like hers in its breadth and diversity.

I will never forget a little road trip that Mom and I took just after U2’s The Joshua Tree was released. I loved U2’s 1983 album, War, but had been disappointed with everything before and after that until the release of The Joshua Tree. I was playing it and Mom asked me to turn it up.

I turned it up loudly enough so that she could hear the music and the words – and handed her the liner notes so she could read the lyrics – and as she listened and read, she smiled and said “I like this. It reminds me of the music I heard growing up.”

As I thought about it, I realized she was right about the striking similarity in tone and content between The Joshua Tree and the Depression-era music she’d grown up with that juxtaposed the discouragement with the harsh reality of life then with the hope and optimism of faith and belief in God and I understood that we both appreciated the album for the same reasons in different time periods.

One of her favorite tracks was “In God’s Country:”

As Mom’s vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease progressed, I turned back to music for her to calm her, to comfort her, and to bring back happier times and memories of her life. And, as Mom took her last journey out of this life, I also turned to the same music for the same reasons.

(Ironically, so far, it is really hard for me to listen to all of Mom’s music yet without a lot of sorrow except in small bits and pieces here and there where I don’t have the opportunity to linger over it and have the flood of memories of our life through the years come over me like a tsunami wave.)

With technology, building a customized musical library for our loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias have never been easier. I will list a few low-cost and free options for building these databases for playback at any time.

spotify music application for PC and tabletsSpotify has one of the largest musical databases around and is an excellent choice. An unlimited subscription is only $4.99 a month and provides unlimited play time with no commercials (the free version gives you 10 hours of playback a month with a lot of commercials). The “shuffle” feature works well with mixing the music up and making each playback unique.

While Mom was alive, I had the unlimited subscription. I created several playlists for her that we listened to a quite a bit during the last year of her life. A lot of times I’d play them softly during her naps, which became more frequent and lengthy during the year.

But when she was awake, we’d talk about the music and occasionally, we’d sing along if we both knew the words or I would sing to her and she’d smile watching and listening to me.

If you’d rather build your own musical database, the easiest way is to convert YouTube videos to MP3 files and download them to your computer (I’d suggest storing them in your Music folder in the respective folders you’ll need to create for different types of music or artists to keep them organized and easily accessible), where they can be played back with Windows Media Player.

The steps to do this are fairly simple:

  1. Copy the YouTube video link you want to convert to an MP3 file
  2. Go to listentoyoutube.com and paste the link
  3. Follow the directions for downloading the converted file
  4. Double-click on the file to play it in Windows Media Player

Once you’ve got Windows Media Player open, you can create playlists there and drag the MP3 files from your Music folders into each playlist. Then the next time you want to listen to a playlist, simply open Windows Media Player and click on the playlist. Windows Media Player also has a shuffle feature, which I would suggest using just to keep the order fresh and different each time a playlist is played.

So, if we haven’t already tried music as a comforting and soothing part of caring for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias, then we need to implement it today. The benefits are not just to those we love because this is a wonderful way to connect and spend time together and intersperse some happy memories for us to carry with us when our loved ones are gone.