Marion is a resident at a local private care home where I provide Live Therapeutic Music. When I first met Marion years ago, she was already suffering from Dementia. Even so, she was usually engaging, responsive and loved to sing along with any style of music. As a church soloist for 40 years, Marion loved hymns and spoke of singing at weddings, funerals and social gatherings. Now in her 80’s, Marion’s voice was no longer pleasing to the ear, but that didn’t discourage her from singing along to the music.
When I visited Marion last month, she required the guidance of a nursing aide to help her slowly shuffle from her bed to the activity room, where she could listen to the music with other residents. Within minutes, Marion’s eyes closed as she lowered her head, appearing to sleep while I played. For nearly an hour, Marion sat motionless; giving no indication that she was aware of any music. As I concluded our session, a resident asked if I knew any Hank Williams. I decided to play ‘Hey, Good Lookin’ for one last song.
Before I could finish the first line of the song, Marion sprang to life! Still sitting with her head still down and eyes closed, both feet began jumping up and down in perfect rhythm while her hands patted her thighs in time. She began to warble loudly and was able to maintain meter, even though her words were slurred.
Everyone in the room watched in amazement as Marion continued to immerse herself in this song. After repeating the chorus several times, I ended the song and Marion immediately retreated to the silent world inside her mind. Patients and staff alike were amazed at her response. Even now, I catch myself imagining what kind of memories she must have relived as a result of hearing this song.
Encounters like this always encourage me so, where I have opportunities to bless someone with a memory of a meaningful piece of music, provide a brief respite from the ravages and pain of their disease, or help a patient relax enough to actually fall asleep in the midst of their anxiety or agitation.
As a friend once told me, “therapeutic music is able to touch patients in places where medicine can’t reach.”