Has anyone ever told you to “live in the moment?” Or “Be present.”
Living in the moment takes on a whole new meaning for someone who is living with dementia.
Here’s how Jolene Brackey describes it in her best selling book Creating Moments of Joy – A Journal for Caregivers.
“When a person has short term memory loss, his life is made up of moments. We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with those who have dementia, but it is absolutely attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments – moments that put smiles on their faces, a twinkle in their eyes, or trigger memories. Five minutes later they won’t remember what you did or said, but the feeling you left them with will linger.”
Moments of joy.
Not days or weeks or months or a lifetime.
Moments that help us connect.
Moments that help us understand.
Moments that help us communicate.
Moments that truly impact quality of life.
Moments of joy.
Want to know one of the most powerful ways to create moments of joy?
You guessed it. Music.
Let me show you what it looks like with these three Music Moments taken from my book Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care.
Bob told me with a gentle smile, “I have memory loss.” He was trying to recall the name of one of his favorite songs. Not knowing the song title didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. As our music session began, he pushed up to his feet so that he could dance – often with his imaginary partner. He “held her” tenderly as he closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around himself, and caressed his own cheek. He swayed to the music and let the song take him to a place he remembered.
Bob likes rock and roll, Elvis, and “Blue Suede Shoes.” He could be any man on any dance floor. He laughs as he dances. When we sing “Home on the Range,” he joins me in adding the coyote’s howls. Without being prompted, he adds the sound of a horn to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” He cups his hands around his mouth as we sing “Can’t you hear the captain shouting, Dinah blow your horn!”
Bob’s wife arrives for a visit. She sees Bob dancing and tells me, “We both love music. We used to love to go out and dance.” I sing, “I’ll be loving you, always…” Bob and his wife hold each other tenderly as they dance.
Right in front of me sits a woman with a round, soft face, tight curly hair, and the bluest eyes you can imagine. She is short and her feet barely touch the ground. She is wearing blue pants with tights underneath, and ankle socks that she frequently reaches down to pull up from her white tennis shoes.
When I arrive, she squeals, “I love you!” as she bounces up and down in her chair. She swings her feet and taps her toes to the music, often sitting on her hands like a small child might. She wears the biggest smile ever. Her voice is quivery, but she sings every song with gusto, often clapping along. Her delight in the music is contagious and spills over to those around her.
Ron is asleep on the couch. When the singing starts he pounds one hand into the other in time to the beat. His eyes open now and then with what seems to be great effort. After some time Ron gets to his feet and comes to stand next to me. He starts to join in with a high-pitched hum. No words, just a hum in tune with the song. A hum and then a huge smile.
Remember. For people living with dementia, it’s all about moments.
You can’t make everything perfect, all day or all week.
But you can create some moments of joy – with music.