Why does music affect the brain so powerfully? How does the patient with memory problems remember songs word for word?
…and why should Hospice music have NO words?
We often read about the power of music to engage the patient with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I saw this magical transformation many times weekly when I teach my music classes to the elderly through the Junior College Senior Program. Heads raise, feet start tapping and mouths form the words to songs from their childhood. Faces brighten and interesting stores are shared. The music brings with it a joy and the participation of seniors who are withdrawn or angry. It is very strange, like a wind up toy that enlivens during the song and then becomes quiet after the music. For awhile, they are a singer within a group, remembering shared historical experiences that have been paired with the music in their psyches. How can this happen for a person who can’t remember their name, or where they are?
The brain is a complicated place that stores different sensory inputs in certain areas, almost like a computer has files. Deep in the long term memory these pulses of sound, rhythm and melody are paired with early memorable experiences and there they are permanently imprinted. Researchers tell us the brain stem, or primitive reflexes are involved. When a persons favorite music is played, or a special song, the evoked memories are pleasant. And this is something. This is something we can do for the patient with dementia. When family and friends, foods and environment fail to bring comfort to our loved one…..Music can be of great relief and service. It is something you can do easily. Putting on a CD or tape or singing with the patient is a powerful intervention.
The important thing to remember about introducing music to a senior is to choose music they have liked or might like. And then carefully monitor their reactions and you will know which songs seem to bring comfort or response. Introducing instruments is especially powerful, as the patient can experiment and take joy in the lovely sounds it makes. My students loved bells, Tibetan instruments and drums. Without inhibition they seem to enjoy the experiential aspects and immediacy of their experience. The palpable joy, childlike was sometimes so heart-filling the hour long class would seem like minutes and the staff would come gather around to watch in wonderment. I had toddlers come into the Rest Home for parades and marches and singing the Itsy Bitsy spider doing the hand motions as a team. And just to keep myself in check, often a client might yell “you are a fake, come arrest her” or one woman said “you are angel, I see your wings and you can’t fool me” as she clutched her pink sequin evening back from her wheelchair. Music awakens. And it can also put us to sleep and take us to our final peaceful slumber.
As a music practitioner who has made personal visits to the bedside of the ill and dying I see firsthand the beauty and power of music in these special situations. Music calms the family. I sang french songs for Frenchy, and camp songs, and then when the final hours come I sing angel songs. There is a science to choosing the music and the volume, genre, and delivery is all an art. Go ahead and put on Cds the the client loves. For some situations you may want to hire a professional to come in and play an instrument and sing for a loved one. This is a memorable, shared experience that is therapeutic and well-received. I tell people, “When flowers and chocolate won’t work” send music.
New research and programs are being developed around music, healing and dementia and we are just beginning to understand what the Greeks understood through the Pythagorean music approach…Music is magic for the human body. We can measure the results, but exactly why or how music heals still eludes us. But perhaps that is just one more mystery of the great cosmic plan. Why does the sun rise? It just does. Why does music heal and soothe? It just does. So we should use this great gift freely and often. It is said that Music is the only thing that passes unchanged through the veils between Heaven and Earth! So we bring a bit of Heaven to Earth and assist the dying or tired to feel an inspiration and invitation to relax and restore and move on if it is the right timing. We can access the vibration of fear and resistance that comes with sickness, dying and accelerated degeneration and gently rock and release it with the correct intention and approach. Music soothes!!
One significant experience recently brought me to a friend’s home to support her dying husband with only 6 weeks notice that he would die of pancreatic cancer. Agitated and flailing, he was upsetting the family in his distress. I simply took out my crystal bowls and began playing low solid relaxing tones and added my voice. I asked his angels to speak with him inwardly and make a bridge for him to relax and go home. My friend told me that I left and he immediately fell limp onto the couch, opened his eyes to say goodbye and died within 15 minutes. The Bridge had been made. Music that is free with no words or melody contains no anchor to memories so I use improvised tones that are gentle and non-repetitive. Once I drew a picture of my work at the bedside. Five beings in colored robes surrounded the bed of the dying client and there was an open space…I asked spirit “What is the open space?” I was told, that is where you sit Jan, and these angels form a circuitry within you so you can sing People Home. I like that idea. Thank you for sharing the Magic of Music for Memory and Hospice Care with me.
Namaste, Jan Cercone RN, MA, CMP
For more information about Music and Healing, or to Become a Member of a Quantum Healing Community contact
Jan Cercone at Soundandlighthealingarts.com 707-206-5068
Jan is a Music Practitioner, RN, MA who Creates Inspirational Workshops and delightful experiences teaching how music Heals. She is a gifted healer, Sings like an Angel, Is a Minister, Avatar Master, Omnium Graduate, Author of two books and creates Sound, Light and Color Healing Events. A frequent radio guest, Television guest on Channel 4, she travels widely demonstrating the healing power of Music. She is available for classes, speaking engagements and private music visits.