Try to Remember

February 10, 2012

I have publicly reminisced quite a bit about an AL I used to work at that was designed specifically for people with dementia.  There are two units, one early-mid stage and one mid-late.  When I left, I had a hard time explaining to the early-mid stage residents why I was leaving, what I was leaving for, and where I was going instead, so I haven’t gone back.  While I missed them a lot, I didn’t want them to go through the good-bye all over again and feel deserted, so I never visited.  Since then, I have been supervising students at this location (without being an employee there) and we have a fabulous time on the mid-late stage unit, which is coincidentally the only floor which fit into my hectic and scattered schedule.  Until now.

Today I had my first session on the early-mid unit in almost two years.

Two residents, both of whom have non-Alzheimer’s type dementia, remembered my name.  I was shocked.  One other resident, who I was once very close with, and who was my original Jewish music and language influence, didn’t seem to remember me at all, which I wasn’t surprised or hurt about.  Before the session (which happened to be based around drumming – I can’t get away…) I said to the entire group, “My name is ____, and I actually used to work here a long time ago, so if I look familiar, that’s why.”  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this resident, G, looking at me and nodding her head enthusiastically.  I felt relieved for some reason – not that it would matter if she hadn’t recognized me – and it made my day.

What made my day even better after that, was at the beginning of our drumming group hello song, “Funga Alafia,” when the three residents (including G) who I had known two years ago remembered the words without so much as a tripped syllable.  I taught them that song four/five years ago, and they still remembered it after possibly not hearing it for two years.  The brain is an amazing thing.  Everyone else in the group eventually picked up the melody and lyrics as well, but it was G who surprised me the most.  We did the “Great Day” song which I posted about here, and she remembered my lyrical adaptations, and the rhythmic cadence following each verse.  We did a sculpting exercise (which I’ll post about in my next group drumming series post) and despite an obvious decline since I last saw her, G was able to participate fully and without prompts, as if the last time we had done that kind of thing was last week.

My favorite thing about today, was that it reminded me of a myth that needs major busting:

“People with Alzheimer’s can’t learn new things.”

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5 Responses to “Try to Remember”

  1. soundscapemusictherapy said

    That’s an important reminder. I’m frequently amazed by the music that my music therapy clients can remember and access so easily. It’s always humbling.

    • I agree. An MT colleague asked me a few weeks ago how to go about doing lyric substitution with a group the activities director claimed could not learn new things. I told her that everything is worth a try. Part of this was that the acivities director had witnessed a mediocre MT leading one of these exercises with 23 people and had assumed that was how it would always go. She ended up being surprised when my colleague led a lyric sub. exercise the following week with a smaller group and it was successful. I love it when I’m surprised, and I especially love it when non-MTs are. It reminds me of why I do this.

      • soundscapemusictherapy said

        Absolutely. Those are the days I live for. It’s funny you mention lyric substitution, because it really does seem to surprise people when it works so well. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you for sharing this reminder.

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