Monday, May 27, 2013

Music, Memory and Alzheimers

One of the many things I love about my MidLifeCrisisMobile is Sirius Radio, because sometimes when I'm listening to Deep Tracks, Classic Vinyl or Classic Rewind, a song will come on and boom, I'm taken to another time and place. It happened yesterday when I was on the way back from visiting my dad at his assisted living facility - "Fat Man in the Bathtub" by Little Feat came on and I was suddenly back at Duke, sitting on the little balcony above the doorway at Wilson House, the one you had to climb out of the bathroom window of my suite to access, drinking beers and watching people hang out and play frisbee on the East Campus quad.

(Note, this is not a song where you have to ask for "More Cowbell". It is freaking Cowbelltastic.)

A month or so ago, I heard this song, which I had on vinyl but hadn't listened to since 1989 when I moved to England and last owned a turntable:

Even though I hadn't heard it over twenty years, I still remembered all the words. I asked my social network friends the question: Why do I remember the lyrics to a song I haven't heard in over twenty years, but I can't remember what I ate for breakfast?

I was thinking about this yesterday when I went to visit Dad. He was pretty out of it when I arrived. His circadian rhythms are reversed, so he spends a lot of the night walking the floors, and then is sleepy during the day. When Benny and I arrived for our visit, it took Benny a lot of face and hand licking to wake him up, and when he did wake up, he was very groggy. Downstairs, they were having the weekly singalong, so I encouraged Dad to get up and come for a walk with us so we could go join in. He held his head when he stood up, and because he can't articulate what he is feeling, we (his family and the staff) have to work together to figure it out from his past medical history and the clues he gives us). Are his medications affecting his blood pressure, causing him dizziness? Does he have a headache? It's like a giant guessing game, where the patient can't tell you if you have the right answer. All you can do is watch and observe and see if he looks happier and more comfortable.

We went to join the singing, and Dad sat quite happily with Benny on his lap, and was even happier after my brother John joined us.

The songs they sing are mostly from the 40's and 50's. "Smoke gets in Your Eyes." "As Time Goes Bye" "The Tennessee Waltz" "I love you truly, dear" (which always makes me verkempt, because my Grandma Mollie, Dad's mom, who also ended up with Alzheimer's, used to sing it to us).

Yesterday, I witnessed one of the ladies, who usually smiles at me but never speaks, get totally excited and talkative when her favorite song came up. She sang, loudly and not particularly tunefully, but it didn't matter. She was responding, and it was beautiful to see her face light up and to witness how it was the music that had touched some memory deep within her and turned on the switch.

I turned to my brother and asked, "What songs do you think they'll play when it's our turn?"

And I had this vision of myself, my wrinkled face lighting up, shouting "BISMILLAH, NO! WE WILL NOT LET HIM GO! LET HIM GO!!" as my middle aged children cringe. Or maybe, by then, they'll just be happy that Mom remembers, and sing along with me.

1 comment:

  1. i have been told and have seen it in a person with extreme dementia, that music hits a different part of the brain, not affected by these degrading diseases. The situation that i saw was the mother of one of my close friends, who could not remember her children (her son was "that man"), but would get up and lead the sing alone at the center that she was residing at. Keep to the music Sarah -it is important, what you had for breakfast is much less so.