During the last years of my mother’s life she lived in a wonderful assisted living residence in Manhattan. It was great that either my sister or my son or myself would see her each day. She got more of us in that dwelling than she did when she was in her house in Westchester. My dad had died long before we “got her” to move into the city. After my mom had lived there for a year a special group that cared for people who had varying amounts of dementia, took over the seventh floor. It was perfect timing. My mom’s dementia had advanced to the point at which this was needed and helpful. Thankfully, my mom always remembered who we were and she knew she was in the city, etc. However, we could easily see her getting lost if she were to go out alone.
Why am I writing about dementia in a column that has a title about singing? I learned something through the experience of being with my mom at the residence. I’d been with the talented writer who’s musical I produced in England and Florida. (Believe me, I’m always tempted to step back in and bring it to a smaller Broadway theater. But that’s another story.) John Meyer and I would entertain at the residence to brighten the lives of the people who lived there. This place had loads of great activities for its dwellers.
I noticed, from the very beginning that of all the activities offered (they had bridge, lectures, exercise classes, etc.) the movies and our musical soirees brought in most people. I’ll say, that as far as I could see, of all their activities I attended, our entertaining kept the most people in their seats throughout the session. We’d take requests and we’d speak with the elderly listeners after our session. They all said – all – that each song brought them back to the place they were when they first heard it. They could describe that place and their situation at the time in minute detail. I bet you can think of a song that was popular when you were I school or shortly after that and describe your setting in detail. You’d remember the room, the light that came into it, what you were wearing and doing, the perfume or cologne you were wearing…I mean the minute details of the setting.
When my mom moved up to the floor that housed the dementia patrons we were even more astounded at the results of our entertainment. Some of the men and women living there couldn’t even remember their own names, no less the names of their spouses and/or children. Many had no idea what they’d had for breakfast or even it they’d eaten that day. Now my eyes are really tearing! When we’d start to perform a song from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and even the 50s – they would sing along – and they’d know every word of the song!!! They wouldn’t miss a beat! They’d remember the melody and the rhythm and the lyrics. Some would come up later and say things like, “We sang that in our senior year concert in high school. I remember that concert because the roof was leaking and the principal was furious with the maintenance men! I didn’t care about the leak except that I wanted my hair o stay neat because I had a crush on one of the girls in the choir.” This was a report we actually got from a gentleman there! He didn’t know quite where he was at the moment we spoke – but he remembered the leaky ceiling and the girl he had a crush on the night of his high school concert!
That experience taught me to sing songs to myself as I’m walking down the street or doing tasks. I’m a songwriter, so sometimes I sing my own songs. I find that the vibration of the music helps me to feel at home everywhere. Music is vibration. Vibration connects with us. It helps us remember and connect with events and places and people. I’m not a brain MD, but I found this through experience and it almost always seems to hold.
This week, when you’re enjoying yourself, bring the joy of life and your experiences into your brain by singing a song to yourself. When you sing you bring in the vibrations of the moment and they’ll remain with you. Sing Yes To You!