Q: Dear Regina, I have heard about music therapy for people with dementia. My brother was never much into music. Would he benefit from this or is it a waste of time. He has not listened to music in nearly 30 to 40 years.
A: For someone that may be in their 70s or 80s, 30 to 40 years ago is not their genre. The memories of music go back to early adulthood, to as early as listening to music of their parents. You may be so surprised to hear your loved one sing a tune from their past by simply putting on a song they heard when they were a child or young adult. Even nursery rhymes will spark the right side of the brain of listening and remembering while attempting to sing it is a left side brain skill. Music brings the ability for a person with dementia to use both sides of the brain.
A person with dementia usually has remaining abilities controlled by the right side of the brain, which is our creative side. When these right brain memories are triggered, it opens doors for the sparks of the left side to exercise a lot of the automatic responses, like singing a familiar song or nursery rhymes. This also sparks new neuron brain cells.
Music can really reach beyond dementia. For example: I witnessed a family member speaking to their loved one about music and the music was just put on and the person with dementia was asked if they remembered it and the response was “no.” The family member left the music on and soon the person with dementia was singing and commenting on how great the music was. Everyone’s response ability is different, but it is usually a positive one.
There are different kinds of memories that the brain uses to help us function. Music is a wonderful way to spark and wake up the old ones to help us function to improve our quality of life while we live with brain changes. The key is those who love us with brain changes to make available the things we like so we can connect with our families, friends and careers.
This is a long road for the person with dementia and for those that care for them. We as carers (with the healthy brain) can assist the journey with joy instead of defeat. It is true there is no cure but why live as if your loved one and your life are over or already dead. Don’t beat yourself up on mistakes. Sing your way to the end. It is not the end that matters, it is the journey. Change your perspective and enjoy the person you love and care for while they are here. They are still here. Find them because they really are trying to connect to you. They need you to help them connect. Always take care of your own health first so you can be there to help them with theirs.
Q: Dear Regina, How do I stop arguing with my mom when she keeps saying things to hurt my feelings? I can’t take this any longer! She is so hurtful!
A: It is your natural response to protect yourself and how you perceive the world and your surroundings. Your mom with dementia is doing the same. However, her brain has unhealthy changes that do not allow your mom to choose how to function and behave. It is more of a response. With your natural response, you are able to control your emotions and make decisions to step back and hold your tongue. Her executive functions that give her the ability to do that are affected by dementia.
For you to stop arguing, it will take practice and a real understanding and embracement that your mom is not doing it on purpose. I know it is hard and, you are right, it is hurtful. The pain will go away when you can accept that part of it is the disease and the other part is a reaction to her defending herself in some way.
If she says something to be true and you know for a fact it is not so, go with her flow. If she snaps at you for something, sincerely apologize no matter who is at fault (this will calm her when she knows you mean it).
Stop correcting her; let her enjoy remembering the way she is able to. She is trying to connect with you by sharing a story. Understand the human emotions that she is dealing with. No one wants to feel stupid or feel like someone thinks they are stupid. The reality she has is her reality and she can no longer logically see it from another perspective. This part of her brain has already died.
Make sure you have a break from caring. Go see a movie or spend time with a friend. Ask a family or friend to stay with your mom for an hour.
Send questions and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org or text 758-486-4509.