One Mother’s Memory & Music: A Hopeful, Helpful Message from her Daughter (Nurse & Musician)

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Recently we held a funeral service for my mom.  She had Azheimer’s disease for the past ten years.   I found a way to effectively communicate with mom right up until her death and would like to share with you.

anne sands & mother
It was sad to watch her slow decline, but there were shining moments that made me smile and appreciate that she could still respond.
Most days she sat silently with an unfocused stare. She did not recognize me as her daughter. We spent many hours looking at her old photos and she always pointed out her grandparents or smiled at her honeymoon pictures. Over the years, her vocabulary diminished but this remained a way for us to be connected.
I had been a nurse for many years but I did not know about reminiscent therapy until mom was diagnosed and placed in an assisted living facility.

According to to wikipedia: Reminiscence therapy makes use of life events by having participants vocally recall episodic memories from their past. It helps provide people with a sense of continuity in terms of their life events.

I learned the importance of smell and how sharing apple pie or chocolate cake can bring back memories from the past. Sometimes we looked at magazines and talked about the pictures such as cute kids, animals, or an interesting food display. Although I had not played a piano in years, I decided to play to see if mom enjoyed her old favorites.
I was surprised at mom’s ability to recall the words to some songs even when she could not communicate a full sentence in a conversation!
I began playing the piano for one hour  a week and the residents looked forward to singing and dancing to their favorite songs. It always surprised me when people came out of their fog and started to sing a song.  I would ask some of them to name that tune and people enjoyed remembering the song and talking about a specific occasion that happened many years ago.
Some residents clapped and stomped whenever I played the polka rendition of Beer Barrel Polka. Most  of them loved to hear patriotic songs as well.
I noticed that  residents did not recognize music from the 60s so I typically played songs from the 40s and early 50s.
I wish my mom did not lose her memory but I did learn to appreciate that people still have value even when they cannot easily communicate.  I now enjoy volunteering to play the piano two hours a week.
I hope this story gives hope to anyone that has a friend or family member with this disease.
If your loved one does not have old pictures, consider downloading some old photos from the internet to share.
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