Sunday, May 9, 2010

Coping With Dementia

Two days in a row now, I’ve come across information on managing Alzheimer’s disease that taps into a couple connections wired deep in the brain: our capacity for words and our capacity for music.

First was a New York Times news item about author Lydia Burdick, who has written a simple book full of colorful pictures and large type specifically for memory-impaired adults. “The Sunshine On My Face” is one of three books she produced while caring for her mother who has advanced dementia. For a little while, at least, the connection between mother and daughter that had been slowly fading away opened back up when the two women shared story books.

The second reference popped up in a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the popularity of a capella singing among medical students who need a creative outlet to balance the rigors of their studies. The University of Pennsylvania’s UltraSounds (every one of these choirs, apparently, can’t resist a medical pun when it comes to choosing a name) brought nurses to tears at one adult day center when heretofore mute residents began singing along with “Silent Night” during a Christmas performance.

Right now, I don’t have an Alzheimer’s patient in my life. But these news items brought back that rush of primal love and connectedness I felt when I used to sing lullabies to my babies or cuddle them in my lap for a story. Life does indeed come full circle. And if a book or a song can bring a moment of connectedness and a bit of relief from the pain of caring for a parent who may not remember you anymore, God bless author Lydia Burdick and the singing of The UltrasoundsThe Doctor's Note and the The Transplantations for the joy they spread.

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