Music, the Mind and Dementia: A Trio in Harmony

Music, the mind and dementia. An unlikely trio you may think. On the contrary. Going to the other end of the spectrum, in a baby’s sixteenth week of development eyebrows, eyelashes and, oh yes, hearing are all in place. In fact, research has shown that songs sung during gestation are more readily recognized by the newborn after he or she makes his or her official debut.

First to come, last to go. The very ability to hear and react to music, that was first heard in the womb, stays for quite a long time.  This is particularly true for the person with dementia. I have seen this phenomenon up close. Some of my clients who have been silenced by the disease, start to sing when they hear familiar songs. I encourage you to try it. You won’t be disappointed and you will find a wonderfully meaningful experience. Perhaps the only challenge is finding the right song for the right age.

For my clients in their 80’s I have found that songs from the 1930’s are sweet center. “Pennies From Heaven,” “Happy Days are Here Again” and of course “God Bless America.” Can’t you hear Kate Smith belting that one out? George Cohan, while from an earlier era, is another great source. “Give my Regards to Broadway,” is one of my favorites.

Between songs, I invite you to read the article in which I am quoted. I explain how I use music:

Here’s to happy and meaningful singing.

Bring on The Liquid Candy Bars and a Scoop of Haagen Dazs

Recently, an article appeared in The New Old Age column of The New York Times entitled: “Geriatricians: Beware Liquid Candy.” The author, Paula Span, reported on the findings of the Choosing Wisely work group of The American Geriatrics Society. They had their annual meeting in Orlando, Florida in May.

At the conference, Dr. Paul Mulhausen raised concern about products such as Boost and Ensure. Yes, they contain proteins and vitamins, but too much sugar, oil and water. And yes, they have value for the very sick and malnourished. But that is where the buck stops for Dr. Mulhausen…..not for this geriatric care manager.

 Now I am sure Dr. Mulhausen is a fine physician, and geriatricians are known to spend more than the allotted fifteen minutes with their patients. Doctors hear about the home situation, but the full physical and mental stress of caregiving is experienced only by the family. In the case of nutrition, older adults appetites’ start to wane. They just don’t burn a lot of calories if their routine is now sedentary. Taste buds change and favorite foods no longer bring pleasure. Forgetting to eat, refusing nourishment, chocking and spitting out what has been patiently fed to the adult senior are some of the challenges caregivers face.

I have never sampled Ensure or Boost. But they must be magical because I have seen clients who refused every other food readily accept a chilled glass of one of these elixirs. And in doing so, I have seen the stress of a spouse or the worry of an adult child drop a notch. Now don’t get me wrong, a bowl of vegetable soup with an added protein is preferable. But preferable, like perfect, are sometimes hard orders to fill in the world of older adults. So, sorry Dr. Mulhausen, bring on the “Liquid Candy Bars,” aka Ensure and Boost, add a scoop of Haagen Dazs and let’s be naughty. If not now, when?