Music and Laughter Are Strong Medicine Against Dementia
When my 67-year-old mother was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer I was devastated. My mother already was disabled from depression and fibromyalgia, so being diagnosed a few months later with Alzheimer’s disease along with terminal cancer seemed like a cruel joke.
Soon after I learned of the diagnosis, Mom and I were trying to forget our troubles by watching TV when a commercial for a chemo medication came on, creating an awkward moment. The commercial couldn’t end soon enough, and lo and behold, the next commercial was for Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
When the next commercial was for an Alzheimer’s medication, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “Please make it stop.” After the next commercial was for Parkinson’s disease, all I could say to Mom was, “At least you don’t have that disease, too.” We both started laughing at the absurdity of the situation. After all, there are just some things in life that you can’t control. The old adage that laughter is the best medicine is true and sometimes the only thing that works. The other remedy I have found for cheering up a dismal day is music.
Studies have shown that music stimulates the memory as well as emotional areas of the brain in dementia patients, and as a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, I have found that music is quite therapeutic.
According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, our memories are embedded in familiar music, and dementia patients can temporarily retrieve lost experiences by listening to it. “With Alzheimer’s, you lose your past, your story, your identity to a considerable extent. … [W]ith familiar music, you can at least regain that for a little while.”
Finding her words is often difficult, but if music is playing or a commercial comes on the TV with a catchy tune, Mom is suddenly singing and dancing in her chair. Playing music in the morning or before she will be socializing has been helpful because she is in a better mood and more engaged in the conversation. I’ve also noticed that she is more coordinated, or at least able to laugh about it when she is not.
Music also releases dopamine in the brain, which produces stimulation. Sometimes I will sing (badly) as I am doing tasks, changing the lyrics to make them silly or rhyme, which prompts her to laugh or create her own humorous comment. Music makes her more engaged in the conversation and her natural sense of humor more abundant. It is during moments like these when I am the most at peace because for a few moments, original Mom is back and all the lights are on.
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