Let me introduce my Mama to you. She has since passed away to be with the Lord, but in this picture, she was 98 years old with dementia and diabetes, living in a nursing home within two miles of my home. This picture was taken on her last birthday. She has earbuds in her ears, attached to an iShuffle, listening and singing to a French opera singer from her childhood days, Lily Pons. She listened to Christmas carols sung by the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, a few patriotic songs sung by Kate Smith, and a musical piece called “Maple Leaf Rag,” composed by Scott Joplin in 1899. She sang, even reaching the extremely high notes of Lily Pons. She directed the music with her hands. She played the piano with her fingers on the arms of the chair when the “Maple Leaf Rag” came on. She would tell me stories about her Italian bricklaying father who made all in the house be quiet so he could listen to opera on Saturday morning radio programs. Mama loved that time with her father and playing this music brought that whole scenario back to life for her. She told me stories of her Chicago upbringing and about all of the vaudeville shows and silent movies with the good music being played by the live piano or organ player. I downloaded these tunes for Mama about two years before she died. She enjoyed music so when she was awake and in the mood to listen I would put those earbuds into her ear and she loved it. She was amazed that the “little bitty thing” could hold all of that “great music” for her to listen to. Even though I could not hear her music, I knew what she was listening to for she told me each piece, the singer or the piano player. And she would want me to hear it too! This became quite a special event for her and I absolutely loved it, for her sweet sake! Music takes us to places and things remembered, may it be as children, teens, adults, or to landings in our journey through life, a special moment, or a special person. With today’s internet, the music from era upon era is available. I was actually quite amazed to find Lily Pons (whom I had never heard of) who began singing in the late 1920s. Mama would have been in high school at that time.
Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
lift up a song to Him who rides through the deserts;
His name is the LORD;
exult before Him!
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in His holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;…. Psalm 68:4-6a
Music needs to be something that the person can relate to so finding out the tastes of a person is important. Hopefully, the one you are desiring music for can tell you his or her favorites, as was the case with Mama, or you can recall the favorites, or there is a family member or friend who can name tunes that would bring back a fond memory. I found that songs of a varied mix, maybe four or five of one artist, four to ten of a certain type of music (Christmas, spiritual, ragtime, country, Big Band, etc.) interspersed with singles of just one particular type make for a delightful combination for the listener. The listener doesn’t seem to become weary of the varied flavors of music for it spans much of their lifetime, their likes, their memories and sweet times.
Over-the-ear headphones work better than earbuds as they tend to stay on the head better. The earbuds tended to fall out, as I quickly found out, repositioning them from time to time. Mama could not deal with the iShuffle’s intricate method of operation so I was there to forward a piece or shut it off completely. Some people may not like either the headphones or earbuds so a small speaker may be the ticket. Years ago, I had a small cd player/radio for Mama with built-in speakers. (The staff and I used music to soothe Mama during her paranoid and hallucinatory dementia stages, especially at night.) If the elder knows how to use the player, that makes it easy, but if not, then someone nearby needs to help. Over time though, I got an iShuffle and downloaded just her music for just her enjoyment. Because I was dealing with a constantly changing staff at the nursing home, I kept the iShuffle in my purse, always having it with me on each visit. I would see what mood Mama was in and decide whether or not to use it that visit. Using it from time to time also keeps it special. (Nursing homes are finding music works well during a transition in a daily schedule: if someone is hesitant to take a bath or eat or get dressed, music may take their mind away from the task at hand, allowing them to flow into that which needs doing.)
The memories associated with the various music may take a bit of time to surface. Yet, for others, they bubble to the top immediately. Even though we may spend a lot of time putting the music together on the device, patience is our key. Allow the person time to listen and become accustomed to what they are hearing. If the person is responding, don’t be shy about joining in as they sing.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Psalm 98:4
Well over two years ago, I wrote about this topic. I had been using music with Mama for some time. In the news, I was seeing articles relating to music and the mind, brain function, and such. I want to share a website called “Music and Memory” where they have been studying and encouraging the use of music with the elderly, especially those who have shut down or are depressed. This is a short video about Henry. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it. You will be so encouraged to take up this mantle and bring music to one you love. http://musicandmemory.org/
Another website that includes music as therapy is “Validation.” This video does not use a device but the beauty of spiritual music brings a woman to life: https://vfvalidation.org/web.php?request=index
LORD, I thank You for giving people the creativeness to write, sing, and play music, for the ability to so appreciate different kinds of music, and to bring memories to the surface through music. I thank You for these wonderful elderly who can express themselves, for some…a breath of “FINALLY” can come out because of music, for others a freedom to sing, dance, whistle, direct the band, and clap. Thank You, LORD, for the staff and the families who use this way to bring about changes for these special folks. I am so grateful You allowed me to use this well before ever seeing such articles and videos. Mama enjoyed this self-expression, not that she needed to come out of a shell, but that she was so happy with her kind of music. I am so blessed, LORD, because You showed me this way for her. I give You all of the glory. All, LORD, ALL! Amen.