Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Little iPod

My mum suffers from advanced Alzheimer's. She was diagnosed 7 years ago at the age of 80 as the result of a routine memory test with our family doctor. My dad has been looking after her and was her carer until about 3 months ago when she lost her mobility and needed to be moved into a care facility. This was indeed a hard time for all of us. My parents have been together for 68 years.

I live in Jakarta with my family. I have two older sisters and they live far away with one in country NSW and the other in Far North Queensland. We rarely see each other. My parents live on the Sunshine Coast. 

I am able to visit each year with my parents and during the 2015 visit my mum was still mobile and talkative. My recent visit revealed to me just how much this disease has progressed.

My mum is healthy and seems happy but seeing her in a wheelchair was a big shock. My daughter came along for this  visit and we stayed with my dad who lives in a retirement apartment in the same complex. We were able to visit my mum each day. I am indeed grateful that mum is in a caring place with wonderful nurses and a very homey invironment. 

It doesn't quite prepare you for the reality of the disease. 

At each visit I would sit and try to communicate with mum and at times I would see a glimpse under the fatigue of dementia and for a fleeting moment see my mum. 

It was a far cry from our last visit when she was still walking and talking. 

My dad is active and healthy. He drives, he cooks and he keeps busy as an active member of his community. 

Recently on TV there was a documentary called 'Music on the Brain'. 
My dad showed it to me and asked if we could try out the music therapy that the program was advocating. 

We went out and bought an iPod Shuffle and some comfortable headphones that would block out background noise. 

I showed my dad how to create a playlist of my mum's favourite songs and how to transfer that to the iPod. My dad got a whole bunch of songs, many from the 1940s, the time when they were first dating and would go out dancing at dance halls such as Cloudland in Brisbane. 

We were so excited about this little iPod but I must admit I was a bit sceptical as to how well it would work. I was worried it would be disappointing. 

We weren't disappointed. 

The moment I placed it on my mum's ears her expression changed. She became animated and started to move her hands. We were so curious about which song she was listening to. Then the song changed and she got a bit teary but still moved and was clearly enjoying the music. At times she would try to stand up or hold her hands together like in prayer. 

I did not expect this to work so well. 

We talked to her nurses and made an arrangement for mum to listen to her iPod for an hour each day. 

A week later my sister who lives in Port Douglas was able to stop in for a visit. She shared with me some photos from her visit when mum was really communicative and active for over an hour.
We believe that the music is helping my mum. She is not active every day but changes are happening. It's like the music is enabling my mum to reconnect.

I hope that by sharing this story it will help others. I also want to thank all the teachers out there that sing with their classes. You are creating memories and developing a love for music with your students. These powerful memories are so important not just now but in the future.