Music is a powerful tool, isn’t it? It brings back memories of that first kiss, where you first met that special someone. Maybe you have a rebel cry song that helped you through a bad breakup. People plan the perfect song for their first dance at their wedding reception. Music can be the key that unlocks memories tucked away in a box from decades ago, just waiting to be plucked out and played.
The residents where my mother currently resides deal with various stages of dementia, but one lady in particular will make statements such as, ‘The lunch was very good. The lunch was very good. The lunch was very good.’ She repeats it…and repeats it…and repeats it. Perhaps ten, twenty, or more times in a row. She is close to being nonverbal but when she does speak, Ruby (*) can get stuck on a single sentence for a very long time, like a record player that continually skips at one point in the song.
Elvis came to visit and shake it all up recently for some entertainment with the residents, also known as music therapy. We soon wondered if the staff and family knew what they were in for or not. There is another resident who is well over 90, very weak, but she was ready to do the jailhouse rock with Elvis! Martha(*) was up on her feet, moving and dancing away while nurses were on every side, ready to catch her if she should fall. She had the time of her life.
Elvis approached Ruby with a feather boa and wrapped it around her neck, wooing her as he crooned, ‘You were always on my mind’. Apparently Elvis was always on Ruby’s mind. Her mind temporarily breaks free from its locks and she is transported back to her mid-twenties. She sings, she sways, she is weak at the knees. Elvis Presley is singing directly to her…and she is singing right back to him! The verbal and memory processing prison has been temporarily broken, the chains are gone, she has been unleashed!!
For us, the most beautiful thing was to hear my mother still telling us many days later what a thrill she had seeing Elvis perform. She didn’t remember any family being there to visit, but she remembered Elvis. She remembered that Martha stood to her feet, dancing away. She remembered Ruby about to faint at the mere sight of Elvis. She remembered the emotions, the happy experience.
Thank you, Elvis. When Alzheimer’s seems an impossible code to break, you show us you still have it.
**All names are disguised to protect the privacy of the residents.