I recently worked with an elderly woman with end stage dementia at a local skilled nursing facility. Her son had called me to share that his mom was transitioning and to ask if I could help relieve her agitation with live therapeutic music at the bedside.
When I arrived, I could not tell whether Dorothy was sleeping or non-responsive. So I played music appropriate for her condition. After 15 minutes, Dorothy opened her eyes and asked for water. Her son gently swabbed inside his mom’s mouth with a moist sponge. Over the next few minutes, Dorothy remained awake, but minimally responsive. I then decided to play a few songs that she might recognize from her formative years.
As I played an old Frank Sinatra tune, Dorothy lifted, then tilted her head back and – as if directed by a choral director – sang out “just the way you look tonight”. Her voice was weak, but pitch and meter were spot on! In that instant, the room brightened as a smile spread across her face and her eyes twinkled.
Dorothy’s son and daughter both looked at one another in complete amazement. Then her son said, “That’s the way we remember mom, she was always singing!”
Dorothy’s disease soon resumed its attack! As I continued playing, she fell back to sleep while her breathing slowed and deepened. After a few minutes, I left Dorothy resting peacefully with her children by her side. Two days later, Dorothy made good her escape, crossed the river and is now singing with the angels.
Words cannot describe the magic of how music can awaken the soul and give us a treasure that will be cherished forever. I am grateful to have shared that sacred moment with Dorothy and her children and to have given them the miracle of live therapeutic music.
*Names have been changed to protect identities and comply with HIPAA Guidelines