Recently, I was with my sister visiting my 98-year-old Mother in assisted living. My sister had a six-month free subscription to Sirius Radio and she had it tuned to our fave, 70s oldies. It was that kind of day – not too hot, not too cold – when you just wanted to roll down the windows, letting the wind blow in your hair, and sing along at the top of your lungs with utter abandon.
Some songs just shout “SUMMER!” don’t they? For instance, when I hear “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” I’m instantly transported to the family station wagon driving to our community pool nearly every day, baby oil and spray bottle in tow. The windows were cranked all the way down (and I do mean cranked) because there was no air conditioning; no seat belts either, for that matter. Looking back many years later, I began to understand that some songs are simply “summer songs” for me. They trigger all kinds of emotions and memories of exactly where I was when that song became popular. DJ’S know this, too; they will sometimes mischievously pull these out on a nice day in March to tease us into thinking spring is here when, at least in Indiana, we know better.
Even so, in the worst part of winter, I am overjoyed when I hear one of my “summer songs.” I’m about to date myself – not that I haven’t already – but singing backup on Grazin’ in the Grass (I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it)) or perfect unison with The 5th Dimension as they carry me Up Up and Away in their beautiful balloon, makes for nearly perfect moments of joy. The next thing you know, John and Mitchy are gettin’ kind of itchy, then Stevie Wonder brings it on home with Signed, Sealed, Delivered. We made it all the way across town to the new frozen custard place without losing a beat. Does this sound at all familiar?
I read recently that the memories that resonate the longest for dementia patients are about the music they loved. The author suggests that we create playlists for our loved one with their favorite songs. If you do this in the early stages of dementia, they can contribute to this process. Hearing these songs might be one of the things that helps relax an agitated senior citizen or just bring happiness to them when so many other things are out of their control. What a smart idea. Sure enough, at lunch the other day, an advanced dementia patient at our table had said not a single word the entire time until our crossword puzzle answer was the word “peck” as in “a bushel and a peck” from Guys and Dolls. Suddenly, her eyes lit up and she began to sing the song – she remembered!! The staff will often take my Mom, a former music teacher, out to the lunchroom to play during meals and it does her and the listeners a world of good.
Want to do something for the quality of life of your loved one? Make them a playlist of their favorite songs. Ask them for input if they are able and purchase an inexpensive, simple to use mp3 player. For All We Know, this could really make a difference in their life. While you’re at it, start creating your own playlist(s). The statistics show that, by the time a person reaches eighty-five, their chances of having dementia are 40%. Mercy, mercy me, we better get ready.