In this blog post, Helen Rommelaar, whose mother is living with Alzheimer’s disease, discusses the positive impact of music on her mother’s wellbeing.
My mother has Alzheimer’s disease. She was diagnosed eight years ago. Since then her speech and comprehension have deteriorated significantly. She no longer reads and having a conversation with her is challenging.
However, the one activity she has been able to maintain is playing the piano. When I visit her I often arrive to a rendition of a Schumann Kinderszenen or a Schubert Impromptu, accompanied by singing. The notes are perfect, the rhythm exact and all played so musically. Sometimes as a test, I ask her to read a new piece from sight. It is often slow but amazingly accurate.
When I take Mum to visit her sister, they communicate by singing and playing duets on the piano. The few words they do say are about how beautiful music is, how happy music makes them feel and how lucky they are to have music in their lives.
To see the effect of music on a person living with dementia, one has only to watch the documentary Alive Inside by Michael Rossato-Bennett. One of the most moving moments of the film is when, after years of isolation and unresponsiveness, Henry suddenly becomes alive and animated while listening to the music of his youth. A once silent Henry lightens up, starts singing, responds to questions and then gives a detailed account of his childhood.
I have already compiled a selection of my mother’s favourite pieces for that time when she no longer recognises me. When I need to enter the back door into her mind to give her identity and joy, I will whip out my iPod and press play.
What a wonderful story I'm very glad that you shared it with us keep up the good work
Is the Silver Memories music radio,program available on domestic radio, and if so what time of the day is it broadcast please?
Agree with all the commentary, music is so wonderful to bring those memories back. For my Mum we dance and reminisce, Mum sing along and knows all the words. It can be therapeutic also if you are not having a great day. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for sharing Helen Rommelaar, it is pleasing to hear that your mother reacts to music, as cognitive stimulation. May I introduce myself, my name is Frank, my mother was diagnosed with dementia mixed type (Alzheimer's and vascular) some years ago. My mother resides in an aged care facility, I invest most of my time visiting, administering cognitive stimulation.
My husband who has had Alzheimer’s since 2013 loves music and although he finds it very hard to have a conversation or find the words he wants to say he remembers the words of songs and enjoys singing.
Unfortunately, my wife cannot manage to play the piano any more. I have tried using Utube but this is not the same. Any further suggestions?
My husband has frontotemporal dementia and has been in residential care for more than 18 months. He speaks very little but cries with happiness when I play the songs of his youth.
I think music is an excellent way to communicate with all types of dementia suffers, singing with them, playing their favourite music, brings them great joy and memories of times gone by.
My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly 4 years ago. His speech is seriously affected, his cognition is way down, and he can no longer read more than a few words. But he greatly enjoys playing his electric piano, playing songs from his youth; he can even learn new-to-him songs. He hums a tune to me (he has never known the words), I sing the song to him and then look it up for him on YouTube. He then works out how to play the tune (in C, his preferred key), then adds chords. This keeps him happy for hours, and wins him admirers at the Respite Centre he attends, which is good for his self-esteem. His geriatrician says music is in a different part of the brain which lasts longer than speech and cognition.
The impact of music for people living with dementia was the reason that we set up the Silver Memories radio station 13 years ago. It now is transmitted to about 150 aged care homes across Australia via satellite. Department of Health research on Silver Memories showed significant reduction in depression, agitation and aggression. Music is magic.