Isn’t it amazing how you can know absolutely nothing about a person, but the minute you play a song, be it a classic popular song from their heyday, or a rhythmic, upbeat melody, there is something music does to connect that no words could possibly do? I’d like to share a recent experience with you….
We listened to a song that reminded her of Hawaiian vacation days… Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Hawaii’. Instantly she was transported to a world where anything was possible… the ocean waves crashed gently on the shore, it was a balmy 95 degrees and the water felt warm and inviting (her words). She could see the fish swimming around her feet and she was reminded of how her two friends held her up by her feet so she could look underneath at the sea life. She mentioned how she would conservatively wear a one piece and commented how I would probably sport a bikini. I reminded her that in our imaginary world anything could be possible, that we were perfect how we were. She seemed more relaxed in her bed, as she closed her eyes and drifted along with the soothing ukulele sounds. Sharing memories and playing in a distant land, made time seem irrelevant to the both of us. The next 20 minutes slipped by in an instant and soon it would be dinnertime. My elderly friend was relaxed, happier and more understood – which was what really mattered, when just an hour ago, she had been restless, agitated and upset. Having the ability to connect fairly quickly and deeply with this lovely lady touched my heart. She, being in a highly dependent state, with so much wisdom and life experience to offer still, has been given some of her identity back through connecting to the songs personal to her. As a senior living with dementia, in a long term care facility, having the opportunity to be a part of a personalized music program could be just what may help her find her strength and self again.
Fascinating to imagine that when listening to a particular favorite song from our past-time, that an actual mental picture will playback in our mind. This specific area in the brain is called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). The research behind this fascinating process is described well in the University of California’s News article below:
Or for you more neuroscience nerds, you can journey through Dr. Petra Janata’s article:
What is exceptionally fascinating, with regards to people with dementia, is that the MPFC is the last part of the brain to degenerate! As researchers and care staff are observing, seniors who are in advanced stages of dementia are still able to sing along to their favorite oldies, though they may be unable to engage in conversation initially, or show signs of recognition to those around them. I have seen firsthand the wonders of a resident with advanced dementia, having little conversation ability and vague awareness of surroundings, completely engage in a highly memorable song and begin to sing along to all of the lyrics. Her partner and my fellow music volunteer were also amazed and touched to be a part of this. Just turning off the language thought process and allowing the natural flow of music to support her, she found her place again, albeit temporarily.
Happy listening 🙂
~ Melody Mo
Ouma and I, chilling in Johannesburg (2010)