My Dad is 87 and has Alzheimer's. I went to visit him last weekend (He lives near my siblings, ten hours away.) I only get to see him every few months. I arrived and he was sitting on the edge of his bed. I greeted him and he wasn't very responsive. He wasn't sleepy, he was just kind of vacant. I encouraged him to get up and go sit with me and several of my kids in the living area. He was having a hard time comprehending basic directions. He was making a repetitive noise, which was new for him since I last saw him. I was feeling pretty discouraged.
We got to the living room. My kids had stringed instruments and started to play. They played some songs that I knew he loved and had been singing for more than half a century. Dad immediately perked up. He sang along, he smiled, he showed nostalgic recongnition. He even stood up and started "directing." We sang and sang and sang. He clearly enjoyed it. What was interesting is that he seemed mentally better after we had been singing. When I had arrived, I don't think he knew I was his daugther or even someone he knew. Later he was introducing me to someone as his daughter. He couldn't recal my name. I supplied it and he said, "Oh, yes, " and then he said my middle name.
I have seen music affect my babies. I have seen music help children learn to read. And I know it is powerful.
I wonder what would happen if my Dad had a lot more singing time each day.
The nursing home where he lives does work hard to cater to the needs of memory care patients. The movies they play are the oldies that most residents would rememember from younger days - lots of black and white movies, even. Every day during meal time they play "big band" music. I have often seen my dad begin to dance a little when he hears the music. He loved to dance as a younger man even taught ballroom dancing.
I know research is being done with regards to the elderly and music. I would love to understand it more. But meanwhile, I know that music helps the brain, even of those with Alzheimer's.
How to put this into practice? If you have a loved one with Alzheimer's, make a point of playing music they loved when they were younger. Sing with them, when you can. I don't think all music is equally helpful. Music is emotional - it evokes happiness, depression, anger, excitement, restlessness, peacefulness. So be mindful what the music you chose is going to promote.
I am also convinced that complex classical music does amazing things for the brain. If you do not know where to start with classical music, start with Bach. It will keep you busy for years. Play Bach for the elderly people you love. Play it for your babies and toddlers and children, too. In fact, play it for yourself. I think it is something from which everyone can benefit.
"To send light into the darkness of men's hearts, such is the duty of the artist." Robert Schumann (German composer from the 1800's).