“Where words fail, music speaks”, a quote from Hans Christian Andersen, is particularly true of times when Mum becomes frustrated, agitated and verbally abusive and nothing that I say makes a difference. It is then that I put on some classical music and it works wonders. Mum calms down almost immediately, I get a mental ‘time out’, and we connect over a shared pleasure. A win-win situation.
Along related lines, an article that I recently read, entitled “Tuning in to memories helps people coping with dementia”, talks about a “Music & Memory” program where each participating patient is given an iPod Shuffle containing popular songs from when they were 15 to 30 years old. According to researchers, this age range is the happiest in a person’s life.
The program uses music to “tap into deep memories that are not lost to dementia” resulting in participants feeling more like their old selves, being easier to calm down, and also feeling happier, safer and more reassured. One patient, who hadn’t uttered a word to his wife in six months, suddenly started singing and smiling when listening to the iPod.
Using music in this way is just one example of a therapy where tapping into past memories results in calmer and happier dementia sufferers. Similar success has been achieved through the recreation of familiar environments from patients’ pasts (times to which they have often regressed).
One centre has recreated an old-style barber shop where residents can get hair cuts for the old-time price of 65 cents. There is also a 1947 Dodge car to sit in, a nursery, and even an Elvis impersonator to entertain residents. This recreation of the past is intentionally designed to help residents, who have regressed to that era, feel comfortable and happy. The result is that dementia residents become less agitated and less aggressive.
Hogeweyk has been created to give the false reality of a seemingly normal village (including houses, movie theatre, shops, restaurant etc.) to its residents, all of whom have dementia. Staff, trained to deal with severe dementia sufferers, play roles such as shopkeepers, waiters, and postal workers in order to make life seem as normal as possible for residents. The result is that residents lead more active lives and require less medication than those in other facilities.
Whether by recreating memories through music or creating false reality situations, making dementia sufferers happier and calmer (causing them to require less medication and to lead more ‘normal’ lives) seems worth the effort.