ADJUST – The Acrostic to Care (Part 5 of 6): (S)ing, Smile, & Celebrate

Yes, you heard that right.  In the face of dementia, make moments:  musical, giggly, magical moments.

It is always tempting when caring for your loved one to sadly reminisce about the things that you once did together but no longer can.  There is another approach.

Dr. Susan Massad and Mary Fridley conducted multiple workshops titled, “The Joy of Dementia (“You’ve got to be kidding”).”  They note that we often try to correct dementia behavior back to our perception of normal, which can cause frustration on everyone’s part. While things certainly do become more difficult as dementia progresses, the more we adapt, flex, and expand our ideas of how things are supposed to be, we might just create some of the joy we are looking for.

I cannot sing well, but I am not afraid to do so (apologies to those within earshot).  With my wife, I sang, just to make her sing.  I did not sing before her dementia.  As Maureen was shy, I did not hear her sing much but knew she could.  The wonderful thing about FTD was that it can drop some of those inhibitions.

I compiled a playlist of songs that I would catch her humming too during the dementia.  I thought, “Ah, that one must resonate with her.”  She would even just sing the notes after PPA took so many of her words.  This was not loud and boisterous – more so soft and searching.  The key was the frame of mind that it placed her in and creating moments for me to remember years later.  FTD is filled with pain and heartache.  To survive it and stay nimble, you have to create opportunities to smile.

I have a four minute and twenty-two second video of a rare moment deep in Maureen’s dementia where she caught the “chatty’s.”  It was word salad with truly little of it making any sense, but it was the mood and my feeding of that mood that was so important.  Not the story, but the smiles.  She laughed and strangely enough even offered some sarcasm.  I could not tell who the butt of the joke was directed at, but I laughed along with her.

I found myself offering up memories that made us both laugh.  Maybe a funny movie scene – farts always made her laugh whether Leslie Nielson or Blazing Saddles.

I would sing old Elvis tunes and start to dance, and she would join in, sort of, and smile.  I carefully twirled her in the chapel in her facility, butchering Elvis’ voice all the while like a dying cat.  This photo was the result – all smiles.

Music is proven to help the brain.  There is ongoing research all the time in this field.  I offer an immensely helpful link here to read more:  Music for Dementia

The point is, we have to look for the moments.  Look to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.  It is up to you as the care partner to change the narrative.  I am not suggesting suspending the reality of the situation, but I ask you to regularly search for the little rainbows among the ruins.  Laugh about them.  Celebrate them.  Mine your loved one for smiles, and even sing a little.