Category Archives: Singing/Songs

“Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.”
Singing and the enjoyment of music is an ability that typically lingers longer even while other abilities diminish.

The Magic of Music in Memories

Music is an amazing elixir. We discovered that truth when our world began to change as we embarked on our journey of dementia with Mama. Her forgetfulness of ‘people, places and things’ grew to encompass all but the most familiar at an alarming rate. Personal routines broke down. Meals were forgotten, and longtime friends became strangers. I remember when I also became a stranger to her.

Sheet music and roses CC0 Public Domain
Sheet music and roses CC0 Public Domain

As memories fell away, we tried to focus on what remained.  Music endured. Wonderfully, music was the one constant. Mama had songs from a lifetime of singing. It was always a big part of our lives; in fact, I cannot remember any time growing up when Mama didn’t sing. It seemed she was always singing, especially in the car. We did a lot of summer road trips as a child, primarily from California to Michigan where my grandparents lived. On those long drives, we would sing, sing, sing. My parents had a wide musical interest which ran from popular songs of the day to Broadway musi­cals, and old southern songs such as “O Susanna,” and “On Top of Old Smokey”. We also had patriotic, silly and church songs, of which included, “God Bless America,” “Mairzy Doats,” “Playmate, Come out and Play With Me,” “Amazing Grace,” and the “Doxology.”

Music immersion

As time went on, we pursued as many opportunities for Mama to be immersed in music as possible. We played CDs of her favorite hymns, we watched musicals on TV, and even attended concerts held at a local theatre. One evening we enjoyed a fun ‘Banjo and Piano‘ band that played songs from the 1930s-40s. About halfway through, they played “You are my Sunshine” – she surprised us by singing along with the band!

While time moved forward, Mama continued to decline. Her ability to carry on conversations faltered, stuttered, and finally stopped, but to our delight, her singing ability remained. We learned that songs are an integral part of human experience. No matter how much of the thought process a loved one loses, music resides in the soul. As the disease progressed, it began to take more effort – more ‘priming the pump’ to get Mama to sing with me – I would sing the first verse of a song over and over to her. If I was persistent, she would eventually join me. One of her favorites of all time was, “My Wild Irish Rose”.

Helpful notes

The power of music to trigger memories is well documented in studies and by organizations such as Music and Memory . Singing with a loved one is a won­derful way to stay connected. Most folks have a song or two tucked away in their memory. A song some­one learned when they were eight will still re­main with them when they are 80.

If you are not sure what music your loved one would connect with, there is a website, Music Memories that has snippets of songs from several decades beginning with the 1920s. Choose a decade and play through the snippets until you develop a playlist that your loved one seems to connect with. Then you can go to YouTube, iTunes, or some other music source for the entire song. Unless I knew the song and could sing it with Mama, she used headphones to help her to enjoy the music. It is an amazing thing to watch the light of memories flash and sparkle in someone’s eyes – almost like magic.

And a little child shall lead them

I have just arrived home after attending the monthly ‘Birthday Party’ held for residents at the care home where my Mama lives.  It was wonderful! Loosely Strung, a Tehama County band faithfully visits each month to play the old songs (including “Happy Birthday”) to help the celebration.

February is Mama’s birthday month and I had been looking forward to enjoying it with her. The residents seem to really take pleasure in the music, cake and ice cream. They engage at whatever level they can by clapping and singing along with old favorites.

Wayne and I try to attend as often as we’re able. We know that Mama loves music, and even though dementia has robbed her of the ability to sing or express her emotions, her eyes are still able to speak.finishing-well-in-life-cake

About half-way through the party, a young family joins the festivity. They have a small boy and a toddler. During one of the more lively songs, the little tot with curly black hair and a big smile, wiggles out of her Mama’s arms and onto the floor. To everyone’s delight, she toddles out to the center of the room and begins dancing and clapping to the music.

Up until that point, the majority of the crowd was simply enjoying the party. Those who  were able to were singing along and munching their cake and ice cream as well as keeping an eye on the tiny dancer. But then the little girl did an amazing thing.

She toddled over to one of the residents, smiled and reached her hand out to grab her walker. It was as if she put a nickel in the older lady. She suddenly came to life with a grin and began clapping to the music. The little toddler, moved on to the next one, again producing a happy response.

Everyone was watching closely now. It was almost as if there was a collective holding of breath waiting to see where she would go next. Each time she toddled up to someone, that person became more animated.

She eventually made it over to where Mama and I were sitting. She reached her hand out and touched the soft fur on one of Mama’s slipper. No reaction. Mama just looked at her. I was a bit disappointed, as I had hoped for a smile or glimmer of joy from Mama. Oh well, I thought, at least I know she was able to hear the music.

All too soon, the musicians played their last song and it was time for us to leave. When I looked over to Mama to tell her good bye and that I loved her, I noticed something – there were tears running down her cheek. She had noticed the little girl. She had reacted. Tears are the only way Mama has now of communicating with us. What a wonderful birthday celebration.

It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas…

Everywhere you go….

One of the wonderful things about this time of the year is that it is steeped in all the essential elements that help stir and awaken the areas in our brains that have to do with memory.finishing_well-in-life-gingerbreadment

Songs. After my Mama was unable to carry on a conversation or even speak, she was still able to sing. On good days, I could pull one of her ‘heart songs’ out of her. Perhaps it is because, as my husband says, “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.” Heart songs are special. Not every song learned becomes a ‘heart song’, only the ones that somehow get embedded into the fabric of our souls. Of all the songs that a person might learn over the course of their lifetime, Christmas songs are very likely on the list. Whether your loved one believes that Jesus is the reason for the Season, or Santa Clause is coming to town, find out what songs stir, and awaken the music inside.

Smells. Recent studies have shown there is indeed a benefit to smelling: The actual process of smelling helps stimulate the neural pathways in our brain to keep them clear or even encourage new branches. The Christmas season brings with it a whole gaggle of smells. From freshly cut pine, to warm Christmas cookies and a host of other, unique fragrances and aromas that arise during this time of the year. Do you have memories of certain smells associated with Christmas? If your loved one is your parent, perhaps those would be the ones to begin with.

Visual memories. Just as ‘music serves as a potent trigger for retrieving memories’, decorate, or collect bits and pieces that may stimulate a lifetime of Christmas memories. Did your loved one have favorite Christmas decorations? If you don’t know, perhaps ask family members or try the standard items that might trigger nostalgia such as garland, poinsettias and lights and bells. Memory Museums are popping up in many places that seem to help patients return to long-term memories of childhood and growing up.

If you are not already incorporating any of these suggestions, give them a try during this Christmas season. Of course, the nice thing about caring for someone who is no longer reading a calendar, Christmas could happen on a very regular basis.

Please share your Christmas season songs, smells and memories with us

“I’ll be me”

“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road.
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singin’ in the wire,
I can hear you through the whine, and the Wichita lineman is still on the line”

If you began singing along while reading those words, then perhaps you were also one of the Glen Campbell fans back in 1968 when this song was “singin’ in the wire” and right into the hearts and lives of both country and pop music fans.

I owned several of his albums when I was little. At the time, I didn’t know what type of music it was, but just knew I loved every song Glen Campbell sang.

My husband and I just watched a documentary called “Glen Campbell: I’ll be me” that is both inspiring and encouraging. It was about his Farwell Tour that the family embarked on after he received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The tour was originally scheduled to be a three-to-five-week goodbye tour, but ended up completing 151 concerts over a year and a half.

The documentary was filmed by Hollywood producer and Campbell’s long-time friend, James Keach, who also produced the award-winning Walk the Line, about Johnny and June Cash.

“Glen and his family are so in the moment, so supportive of one another and have really dedicated their life to changing the face of Alzheimer’s in America,” Keach says. “I think Glen’s legacy won’t just be music. It will be what he’s done with this journey with Alzheimer’s.”

The tour included three of his children in the back-up band. When discussing the tour and how Glen was able to accomplish it, his son, Cal Campbell sais “Maybe in his current state of haziness when he connects to something that he’s been doing for so long or brings him so much joy, I think he becomes himself again.”

Their attitude is to take each day as it comes, make the most of everyday, enjoy life and try to have fun. His son, Shannon Campbell added, “It’s not all bad, really. We get to celebrate his life while he’s still around.”

That is good advise whether you’re loved one is famous, rich and talented, or a simple soul. Try to do the activities that bring the most joy and celebrate life each day.

Kim, his wife of over 30 years, says, “We prepare for tomorrow, but try not to worry about tomorrow or else we can’t enjoy today.”

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he responded, “Just for what I am. I’m Glenn Campbell and I believe in God, I believe in other people. Treat others like the way you want to be treated and help others who are less fortunate.”

The documentary ends with his song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, which are both irony and a sad commentary considering the challenges he faces in life.

Good Bye, Glen, we’re going to miss you.

Are you a Glen Campbell fan? What is your favorite song?



Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Sing, sing, singing the blues away

Are you feeling blue? Overwhelmed? Take heart – or take up singing.

The almost magical affect music has on those suffering from dementia are well established, but what about those who care for them?

Here’s some good news: I just read about a study that showed a wonderful side-benefit to music therapy. It seems that it does more than enhance the quality of life of dementia patients – it also appears to improve the mood and emotions of caregivers.

Another surprise, according to this five-month study conducted in the UK, was that the benefit lasted well after the trial ended, measurements taken two months later showing continued improvement.

Music is the language of the soul. It appears to enter the brain differently than words alone or other noise. To gain the most benefit from musical therapy, it is important to be engaged in the music somehow, rather than just having it play in the background.

A few ways to really engage are:

Singing, humming or whistling is the best way to connect to the music. Also, the use of headphones can be helpful as well as viewing a music video. The most effective songs seem to be the tunes from a persons ‘formative years’. For my Mama, who was born in 1931, the top hits of the 1940s as well as hymns had the most impact on her. A variety of online sites such as www.youtube.com  can provide easy access to a variety of music videos.

Not sure what music is best? Try a song and watch for a positive reaction. Develop a playlist. If it turns out that the list is short, it is okay. If someone has dementia, songs can be played over and over again as long as they are helpful to the listener.

Have you noticed this to be true in your experience?

Jingles

 

  • “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand, cause band aid’s stuck on me.”
  • “Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be, cause if I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”
  • “In the valley of the jolly-ho, ho, ho. Green Giant”radio-finishing-well-in-life
  • “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
  • “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. It’s the real thing.”
  • “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”
  • “My bologna has a first name, its O-S-C-A-R, my bologna has a second name it’s M-E-Y-E-R, I love to eat it every day and if you ask me why I’d say, cause Oscar Meyer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A.”

Are these jingles ringing any bells? Any get stuck in your head? That’s exactly what they were designed to do.

According to Wikipedia: A jingle is a short tune used in advertising and for other commercial uses. The jingle contains one or more hooks and meaning that explicitly promote the product being advertised, usually through the use of one or more advertising slogans.  Jingles are a form of sound branding.

Was your loved one raised on radio? Or TV? It’s likely that some of the  jingles and theme songs played regularly on radio and television shows will be more than memorable. And anything that stirs a memory is helpful to activate something wonderful and pleasant inside your person.

Some of the older radio show theme songs are: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Turn your Radio On, Yukon King, NBC News and Bill Stern Sports Newsreel.

TV show theme songs such as Mr. Ed, Rawhide, Bonanza,  The Beverly Hillbillies and, of course, the very memorable I Love Lucy show may also stir something up.

These old tunes had a profound effect on people, and with a little effort and computer time you can easily discover just  the right ones from your loved one’s earlier years. Many are free to download for you to create a play list that might just awaken a memory or two.

Here’s a few more for the road…

  • “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
  • Once upon a time there was an engineer. Choo Choo Charlie was his name, we hear. He had an engine and he sure had fun. He used Good & Plenty candy to make his train run.
  • See the USA in your Chevrolet, America’s asking you to call.”
  • “Halo everybody, Halo. Halo is the shampoo that glorifies your hair.”
  • There’s just one Schlitz, yeah, yeah—nothing else comes near. When you’re out of Shlitz—you’re out of beer.
  • Lets All Go to A and W. Food’s more fun at A and W. We’ll have a mug of rootbeer, or maybe 2 or3, make the perfect size from the burger family.

‘Till next time, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again.”

What jingles do you remember fondly?

Singing along

One of the most surprising discoveries we made in this adventure called “Caring for Mama”, was that the ability to sing does not decline at the same rate at other abilities – even talking. It could be, as my husband says that “Music does not reside in the brain, it lives in the soul.”

That certainly proved to be true in Mama’s case.  Even after her capability to talk or carry on any type of conversation was gone, her notes-finishing-well-in-lifeability to sing remained.  We believe the challenge is to discover exactly which songs or type of music ‘strikes a chord’ with your loved one. We were fortunate as our family had songs while we were growing up on a regular basis–especially on family road trips.

The deepest held songs may be the ones that your loved one connected to in their youth. For example, we took Mama to attend a concert. The music style was from the 1930s-40s. The singers were accompanied by a piano and banjo players. Mama watched the players on the stage intently and seemed to enjoy the music. About halfway through, the band played “You are my Sunshine” and she surprised us by singing along!

I was quite astonished as I had never heard her sing that song before. With a bit of research, I discovered that it became popular in the late 1930s. Mama was born in 1931, so it was one that she connected to early in life and apparently it stayed with her even into her 80s.