Music/Memory Connection and the Art of Going Way Back

I'll apologize in advance for the long post down memory lane, but this last month has been tough and I just need to wallow in happier times gone by.

Several months ago, my father was experiencing constant hallucinations and a great deal of agitation. They had progressed to the point where I could not calm him with words or physical touch. Even "rolling with it" didn't calm him. At that point we added a medication that helped to reduce the severity of the hallucinations and agitation, but after a while they returned. A friend suggested that I play classical music to see if that would calm him. I slapped myself on the forehead for not thinking of that! My father was an absolute lover of bebop, cool and straight ahead jazz. He instilled that same love of jazz in me. So, I jumped on the computer and created a playlist of 55-60 songs that I recognized within the first couple of bars as being some of his favorites. Those songs brought back so many wonderful memories for me! Dad loved listening to jazz while he was developing film and photos in his darkroom, while the family did Saturday morning chores, or relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. And the best part about it was that he played it LOUD (except for when we were relaxing of course.) I always new he was in a fabulous mood if I could hear the music when I was down the street walking home from school. I knew I'd find him in the garage doing something related to photography.

The next time he was agitated I turned on the music and started asking him questions about the music just like I did when I was a kid. Within minutes he was back in his vibrant years, laughing and talking about the music, going to jazz clubs on Central Avenue, and dancing with my mother.

Now, he's unable to express himself most of the time, but when I put those jazz tunes on I can almost watch him transport to another time. He's weak...very weak...but when that music is on I can detect the slightest head bob. I even see him tap his index finger...and I know he's enjoying a time gone by.

Music is so powerful...so if you have dementia record a playlist now of your favorites. If you care for someone, think back to the music that moved them...make a playlist...play it often.

On another note, my father's cousin Jerry came by for a visit yesterday. These two are the same age and grew up down the street from each other. They have been lifelong buddies. There are only a few people that Daddy is interested in seeing these days and Jerry is one of them. When he came, Dad was able to get out a few words, but when Jerry brought up things they did as kids or teenagers, Dad, who never opened his eyes, smiled and said, "yes." He clearly remembered a couple of the stories Jerry told. Jerry talked about how they climbed the tree in the front yard and could see all the way to City Hall. Dad smiled. Jerry talked about how as a teenager my dad practiced running hurdles on the sidewalk. These were memories that only Jerry could bring back and oh how enjoyable it was to see Dad respond.

Sometimes all I see is the shell of my Daddy... and those days are painful. But, I've learned that while my dad can hardly communicate, won't eat much anymore, can't get out of bed or remember how to walk sometimes...he's still in there and I love those moment when we can draw him out...sometimes it's through the music, sometimes it's through the stories from long ago. Sometimes he thinks he's in the Navy...well before I was born...I'll take that too.

Thanks for this website...and for the chance to share and feel uplifted for a few moments.

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3 Replies

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  • Thanks for your beautiful recollections of the power of music.

  • Thank you for sharing this.

  • Stephanie,

    Thank you so ugh for sharing this. It brings back some bright memories from the darkest of times during my parent's illnesses. I need reminding sometimes that it wasn't all horrible. I hope you have many more of these right spots.

    Randy