Tag Archives: Memories

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.