Music and Alzheimers

by Izabell Fagan from Quispamsis, NB
Jun 13, 15

Our house was always filled with music. On Sunday mornings, my dad would stack half a dozen LPs on the old Grundig Hi-Fi and they would drop like a pancakes. When they were done playing, we'd flip them over, reset them and hit the play button to listen to the flip sides. Opera, jazz, classical, easy listening, Hungarian oldies, it didn't matter. The house was always filled with music.

Music always moved my mother. I remember going to a Hungarian church service in Montreal when we were visiting friends there, and looking at my mom, wondering why she was crying. Of course, I was too young to know her history. I didn’t understand how many memories must have been assaulting her, flooding her senses as she heard that music and those words sung in her mother tongue, for the first time in years.

As well as music lovers my parents were great walkers and it was not uncommon to see them, even after 44 years of marriage, out for a stroll, side-by-side, hand-in-hand.

After my dad passed, my mom walked miles every day to fill in the time I guess. I suppose she walked to tire herself out, to numb herself to the pain of her loss, to fill all the time she suddenly had to spend, alone. Always, she had her music with her. She had a Walkman, and a Discman, and a portable radio. Music was her constant companion.

With the devastating onset of Alzheimer’s, my mother moved into a special care home. One of the terrible ways the disease manifested itself for my mom was that she lost the use of language. It became more and more difficult for her to both speak and to understand what was spoken to her.  

And so music, once again, took centre stage. Music became her comfort. She liked nothing more than to sit in the garden with her headphones on.  

A few years ago I took her to the care home’s Christmas concert. And out of the blue she started singing along with the carols. Many of the words were garbled, but as if by magic, some of them were crystal clear. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and We Three Kings. It was our private Christmas miracle - hers and mine. As she sang, tears began to stream down her face. Pretty soon, they were streaming down mine. I believe that in that moment, she knew what those words meant, what the season was, and perhaps, even, who I was, too.

Since then, every time I visit, I always make sure I turn on her stereo and find a music station for us to listen to together. Sometimes that’s all we do – sit on her bed side-by-side and listen to music. Those are the best times we have now. There is no need to talk, and no pressure to be anything other than mother and daughter. When we are listening to music we are also listening to each other with our hearts; and in those moments I believe, she knows that I love her, and that she is not alone. And that is important. For both of us.