Music. It makes us happy or it makes us cry – depends on the song and what emotion it evokes. Music connects us to memories. We sing if we hear a song even if we are not good singers. We tap our toes, snap our fingers, we move our arms, legs, heads, or our entire bodies. I’d be surprised if we consciously make a decision to do any of those things – we just do it. The music moves us.
So why was I so surprised a few weeks ago when something truly WOW happened? The best way I can describe it: Pure Joy. It made my day, week, month, maybe my year. It is leading me on new path. What happened?
I lead senior adult fitness classes. I work with older adults to improve their cardiovascular system, functional strength, balance, core strength – it’s what I do. I’m passionate about helping others stay healthy, strong and independent as they age. Music is always part of the workout because music makes us happy, encourages us to move and it sets the tempo, the mood. The training I’ve done, the fitness classes I’ve led have always been with active adults in a studio setting – they come to me. Until recently. An opportunity crossed my path recently to lead a Saturday morning class in an Assisted Living facility and my intent was to lead a “structured” class which is “how things are done”. I quickly discovered that that isn’t the case when you are working with much older adults and/or adults that have varying degrees of dementia. So I do what I do: I winged it – made it up as I went along – I let the music guide me.
I’d been with these awesome ladies for about a month. Participation was low. It was “exercise” class and most folks stayed in their rooms because you know: Exercise. The few who were participating were marginally participating; others were with me physically in the room, but not mentally. The morning that “it” happened, after 15 minutes of a “no go” morning, I told them we’d play “Name That Tune”. They name it, I’d play it. Someone asked for Elvis. I played Elvis. Toes were tapping. More Elvis. More toe tapping and fingers keeping beat against chair arms. Doris Day “Everyone Loves a Lover” got fingers snapping. Ladies were leaving their rooms with their walkers to come see “where that music was coming from” and then their toes were tapping, hands moving, big smiles on faces. Chubby Checker and his Twist was next and before I knew it – it was game on. A 90 year old typically in a fog of dementia got up and was dancing, eyes closed. Someone got up to dance with her, then another. Another reached her hand out to me and told me she wanted to dance. As we were dancing, I looked up and saw staff watching in awe taking pictures, taking video and shouting encouragement. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a very frail 97 year old moving her feet trying to get up – her aide comes to assist her and asked “Miss Margie, are you wanting to dance? Margie told her “I am going to dance!” so with the help of her walker and her aide helping support her, she danced. We danced for two hours. They wore me out. I played old gospel songs and they sang every single word. I was asked for “one more fast one” so Jerry Lee Lewis saw us dancing to the dining room for lunch. I sat and had a very good conversation with a lady who typically is not able to have a steady conversation. She had been awakened and it was pretty darn awesome sauce.
Since that day, I’ve been reading up on how music can affect the memory and how individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can benefit from music. It doesn’t have to be formal programs of music therapy and anyone with time, energy and passion can make a difference in someone’s life. I’ve watched the documentary “Alive Inside” and have signed up for training with Music and Memory and have decided to get involved with elders in my community on a volunteer basis. In my small way, I want to make a difference. Music. We can all bring some music to folks can’t we? All of us together can make a big difference.
For more information and a big dose of WOW head over to Music and Memory as a starting place.
Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.