That's me dancing with my amazing father, Joe, at a family wedding.
I became his dance partner by default when his wife, and my mother, died after 46 years of marriage and a four-year fight with breast cancer. In this photo, he is 80 and I am 40. During my dad's illness, he loved to dance. Once he heard a catchy tune he could not help himself from getting up and dancing. It was infectious to watch. He would dance with a smile on his face and not a care in the world.
The more people I got to know with Alzheimer's the more I noticed a common trait. A large number loved to dance. And who could blame them? I too love to dance (albeit alone) with the music turned way, way up and literally dance like no one is watching. Even after not having heard a song in decades, I am able to anticipate which rhythm or lyric comes next. Dancing is invigorating, enlivening, and fun. Dancing is a joy. I will explore the phenomenon of Alzheimer's and music more but for today, I just wanted to put this little story out there.
Music has been an integral part of my life. When I was a little girl, my dad would have me stand on the tops of his work boots as I held his hands and he would move me around the living room floor to the sounds of something most likely off a Reader's Digest 8-track compilation. I played the piano and clarinet and having been taught by a nun, yes, I did have my knuckles rapped on when I did not know my scales. This may explain why I am now an appreciator of music and not a player of music. From there, music was the soundtrack to my teenage life as I lived to attend concerts and spent all my babysitting money on albums. I was a journalist for a rock newspaper, once upon a time. Time marched on and some freedoms of youth were tempered with the responsibilities of working regular hours and a child. Music remained in my life, just not at the same volume.
That volume was turned back up when I found myself needing to escape from the stress of watching my mother fail to conquer her cancer. Bouncing between my own family and her care in and out of hospitals my car became a place of refuge and release of the emotions which were simply larger than I could process. I would find myself driving and attempt to disappear in the loudest music possible. Speakers were blown and to this day, so long as my speakers are intact, I have a gauge for the level of stress in my life.
If music was so powerful to me, what must it be like for others? For my dad, it also remained powerful. Unable to recall who the president was or what he just ate for lunch, hearing the music of his youth was like flipping the "on" switch of his memory. His eyes would light up. His lips would start moving. His mood went from flat to animated. Get him to an event or wedding and he was not going to sit in his seat very long. He would even dance to current day songs, the ones he used to describe as, "that music you can't understand what they are singing". So long as it had a beat, he was on his feet.
When at the parties in his assisted living home, surrounded by other memory impaired residents, I realized that this dancing was not unique to my dad. It was like a magic elixir that allowed bones to stop aching, energies to increase and happiness to be rediscovered.
If you are caring for someone with a dementia, have you noticed anything similar? Are you interested in trying this theory out for yourself and your caree? This is really just the introduction to this topic but seeing as today is a Friday and the weekend is upon us, it seemed like an opportune moment to go about instigating a little bit of joy. Let me know how it goes....