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Posts Tagged ‘songs’


Diversion! Change the subject.  Distract them.  Good suggestions to anyone who is the caregiver of victims with Alzheimer’s disease.  In so many ways AD patients are much like children except people with AD are regressing and children are happily moving forward. One experience is filled with joy and the other is filled with sadness as a loved one leaves us one memory loss at a time.  Yet we, as caregivers, continue on – striving to do our best, seeking advice, often relying on our own years of experience — even dipping back into useful techniques from long ago when life was fresh and our children new.

When the little ones were naughty, had tantrums or got into things such as managing to grab Great Grandmother’s bone China tea-cup, you made every effort to change their focus: distract them, divert their attention, or trade a bright, shiny ball for the family heirloom.  At times there was success, and other times there was limited or no success at all.  The same variables are evident when working with AD patients.

There are times when a scrap of memory triggered by some kind of distraction or recollection can change a mood, take their mind away from destroying the TV, or at least turn their interest from stripping the back of all the wires, to something else. Other times you can make them an offer they can’t refuse (which generally doesn’t work because most severe AD patients are beyond reason) or, in desperation, you can pack up every movable object in the home and box it up – for later – whenever that is.  However, just as with toddlers and young children, problems aren’t always solved by “putting things away,” especially when your challenger is tall and strong.

Even more difficult, though, is directing the loved one into going somewhere, or doing something he doesn’t necessarily want to do – especially if it involves keeping him on a halfway-acceptable schedule.

In our house, and unlike our babies and toddlers, shower time (bath time for babies) is not Ken’s favorite thing to do, although it might be if he could remember how he once enjoyed a good hot shower.  Understandably, I believe this particular territory of “personal” hygiene is his last bastion of independence, and I can’t say that I blame him, but it’s also something where he needs a little help and guidance from his caregivers and me.

I have written before about how music does soothe the “savage beast,” and how there have been times when Ken’s mind seemed to relax and clear a little as we listened to sounds of the “Big Bands” on PBS.  Our music and even music into the 60s has filled a few of our evenings with good memories during this time of so much loss.  For me it seems so logical, so reasonable that familiar melodies from the past can work magic through the muck of a diseased mind.  I am convinced music can and does help if only on a temporary basis.  Recently, I thought I would give it a try during shower time.

With my husband a former Navy man during his very young years and WWII (with extended loyalties to the Marines because of his father’s service years) I began humming a few of the marching songs during morning cleanup.  The 4/4 timing, I thought, might be of help as Ben and I guided Ken toward the bathroom and through his routine.  Furthermore, I reminded him of his waiting “dress blues,” the parade grounds, and how important it was that he be ready to join the other men already marching.

All of this military-type music was worked in with my chatty talk about his service years, his father, the Leathernecks, and Dad’s eight years in China.  Possibly, the familiar rhythms struck a chord deep inside his muddled brain because he seemed a little calmer, and while he didn’t speak of his father, he did convey a few unrelated sentences in a pleasant, conversational manner.

He also seemed to respond to Anchors Aweigh – with me singing what I had learned in Mrs. Mahoney’s “Music I” class to show our support for all of our fighting men during the Big War.  Directing his attention to a navy blue sweat suit I asked if those were his dress blues and was he ready to hit the parade grounds as soon as we were finished.  Using no words, his look was one of positive response, and the best part was he was calm.

Encouraged, I continued with my daily melodies often falling back on John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” whenever there was a lull and Ken’s attention began to wane.  Too difficult to hum, my voice instrument (Mrs. Mahoney said my voice had ranges in the key of flat) entered into the “da – da – da da daaa – da da daaa – da da da – da da da — da da daaaaa — da……”   I even sang the words I had learned as a youth about being kind to our web-footed friends, for the duck may be somebody’s mother…… which seemed to amuse Ben, who, up to that point, hadn’t commented on my latest effort of introducing music into our routine.

I have now branched out — for several reasons.  Monotony can become very irritating.  I doubt that Ken remembers any of yesterday’s happenings, but I need our caregiver, Ben, to also remain calm, cool and collected.  So my morning rendition is more of a medley of many unrelated songs which has become a part of my singing/talk conversation including, “Good morning to you, good morning to you…. using the tune of Happy Birthday.  “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma came to mind as my memory door opened to dozens of other songs from long ago.  When Ken’s eyes or attitude tell me to stop – to divert – I do — and then I talk for a while – striving to be upbeat and encouraging.

Do I believe the variety of old familiar music (including marches) helps?  Being reminded every morning of something from his past may have pulled up shadows of memory. If nothing else, I do believe it helps him change his focus, even to the point where today he sang a few “Good mornings” back to me.  Does positive reinforcement help?  It all remains to be seen, but what I do know for certain is that the experience is a diversion, and anything that can change unpleasant into at least tolerable, or better, is a good thing.

Diversion worked with our babies.  All the while we splashed them with tepid water we cooed and smiled and whispered sweet words of encouragement and affection, and they responded with equal coos and wonderful toothless smiles.  It wasn’t much different as they grew a little older, and I checked out small ears after a day in the sandbox.  I had my own sing-songy song to tell about their dirty ears:  “Car rots, po ta toes, cu cum bers and squash; A veg’ ta ble gar dens in your ears by gosh. “And they responded with laughter, shiny faces and  smiles filled with baby teeth.

So when our loved ones become old and sick, isn’t it beneficial – and kind — to muster up a bunch more patience, a few silly songs, cheering marches with John Phillips Sousa, and – yes – an extra splash of love to help them through this very difficult time in their life?  I have also found that – sometimes — especially when I smile at him – he may give me a broad, warm and wonderful smile in return — just like the one he gave me the night we met.  That’s a diversion for me as well, and a reward.

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 When Ken and I first married, television was brand new with a lot of wrestling and a small handful of almost good variety shows.   That was about it for TV, with radio still being the major source of home entertainment for most people.  Gravitating to the living room after dinner, I recall our family members easing into his or her own comfortable spot, settling in and relaxing while tuning in our favorite programs.  With great fondness I remember my father’s chair next to the radio so he could push the buttons of the big Philco console.  My mother always had some sort of hand work to do (such as darning my father’s socks) while we all listened to an array of wonderful shows:  Lux Radio Theater, I love A Mystery, Bob Hope, Jack Benny or Fibber McGee and Molly.   Who needed to see a screen to follow the plot when our brains created the scenery, did the makeup, the costumes and even the set, placing the entire production on the never-ending stage of our individual minds. 

Moving into our first apartment where Ken spent most of the evenings studying formulas and math for his engineering classes, there were a few radio programs we both enjoyed, thereby allowing him to pull away from his books for a half hour or so.   One of our favorites was about problem solving.  Not the cute family drama-sit coms of today, but stories of life struggles; accounts of ordinary people.  The component used for their problem solving was their own personal discovery of the power of prayer.  Try though I may, the program’s name is long forgotten, but not their sign-off line which I have remembered all of these years:  “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams.”  I believe that with all my heart.

At times, I have noticed while watching Oprah a guest will say something like, “And then I prayed.”  Oprah will counter the statement with, “Why was your prayer answered and the prayers of others who are equally deserving not answered?”  Good question.  Garth Brooks had a song out several years back titled, “Sometimes I Thank God For Unanswered Prayers.”  So what does that mean?  For me it means that prayers are answered, but often we don’t like the answer we get, at least not at the time, as illustrated in Garth’s song.   It’s later that we understand the Father’s wisdom.  And sometimes our Father just says, “No,” and how often He answers in the negative because the die is already cast.  Our ways are not His ways, nor is our understanding His understanding.

I am a person of faith, but if I tallied up my life time of prayers I would be remiss in constant prayer.  Perhaps I would be kinder to myself if I said I was remiss in constant formal prayer.   I doubt I have ever gone through the day without some small needy prayer, quick thank you prayers and  hurried blessings on the food.  When life is bright and sunny it becomes so easy to take everything for granted, forgetting from where all blessings come; and then like others, I find myself turning back to The Father when that same life gets dark and dreary. 

It was a turbulent time when my adolescents passed through their teen years and how often Ken and I angst over their choices which we knew would bring them unmeasured sorrow.   One day, while driving to work, feeling particularly melancholy, an incoming storm poured down rain from the sky as if the Heavens were weeping with me.   I adjusted the wipers so I could better see the road and in so doing, the storm seemed to ease.  “Not really,” I told myself, “the storm is not gone, the windshield wipers are helping you see the way more clearly.”   The thought, “Just like prayer,” popped into my mind.  “Prayer and windshield wipers?”  I pondered aloud.  It seemed almost insulting to Diety to compare communication with Him to a part from an automobile, and yet the two shared that commonality.  Our family was going through one of life’s storms and prayer, like the auto part, while not removing the problem, guided us step by painful step through that particular storm until it had cleared.

When Ken was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I spent a lot of alone time weeping and praying.  Never did I ask my Heavenly Father to perform some miracle and take away Ken’s AD.  Obviously, this was another of life’s storms we had to bear.   Instead I prayed for courage and strength to see us through this awful thing.   There were, and are, hectic days which pass in a blur with nothing accomplished except caring for him: getting him shaved, showered, dressed and fed.  Days when I walk on egg shells to avoid his outbursts, or giving in to my own anger and frustration, spewing out hurtful remarks and despicable words, which prior to AD would have never crossed my lips; afterward glancing toward Heaven and whispering, “I’m sorry, Father, forgive me.” 

And then there are days when the first line and title of a favorite hymn runs through my mind giving me councel, “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning, Did You Think To Pray?”  So I strive to rekindle the habit and, truly, it helps.  Does it remove the storm?  Of course not.  But on those days when I pray with real intent, having faith in Christ, I am calmer, more patient, more appreciative of those rare moments when he is Ken and he knows me and loves me.  And I pray for him, that he might have some peace in his tortured mind, and I am reminded of the last line of the hymn, “So when life gets dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”

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