It has been a very rewarding and inspirational week. I was introduced to a documentary called "Alive Inside" (available on Netflix) and today was sent a link to The Jewish Standard. Both of these sources demonstrate the power of music on breaking through the fog of Alzheimer's and dementia. In both instances, the introduction of music to an previously non communicative individual has dramatic results.
I posted an earlier blog on how rich the memories of holidays can be. During the holiday season, the veil often gets lowered and you may see a spark of past normalcy in your loved one's behavior and communication skills. And that is great - if only the holidays lasted all year.
This is where music comes in. It can be present all year. Christmas carols can be a part of your loved one's daily soundscape. Why not? if it gives them the opportunity to return to a happier, more connected time, then it makes life easier for you, and more alive for them.
But, what if Christmas music is not the key? How can you make a mix tape that could open the door? If your loved one is able to communicate, simply ask them if they have any favorite songs. Once you know a few of their favorite songs, you can get a feel for the type of music they enjoy and, from there, a simple web search for the top hits of a genre or of a time period should give you hundreds of possibilities to create a mixtape (or iPod mix or Spotify station or disc drive) for them. That soundscape has the possibility to illicit memories that can result in renewed connections.
What if your loved one cannot communicate their favorite song? Then, start with a mix of all genres and time periods - popular songs from their adolescence, gospel, jazz - traditional or Dixieland, opera, classical, country, blues, show tunes, holiday songs. Introduce the music source to your loved one. Listen to the music together (a cheap splitter can let you share the music over two headphones) and watch for renewed connections. Whenever I mention "renewed connections", I am talking about the smallest change in what is their normal behavior - a smile, tapping a foot, moving a hand to the beat. These small changes are huge leaps for someone who lives in an isolated world. Their small reactions will reveal the choices on the initial mix tape that connect to them emotionally. Now, with those observations, you can take the selections to which they most strongly responded and expand that genre to fill an entire mixtape.
This is life changing work. So for Christmas this year, give your loved one the gift of music. It truly is the gift that will keep on giving.
Happiest of holidays to you and yours.