“When words fail, music speaks”.
06 Sep 14
by Jennalene Brink, MTA
This famous quote by Hans Christian Anderson rings true for an 86 year old gentlemen adjusting to life with Dementia. Due to a decline in health and memory that has affected his independence, “John” and his family decided it would be best for him to move into an extended care facility. Though John agreed , he moved into his new home reluctantly and after a few months seemed to lose his sense of purpose. He began to refuse social activities and spend much of his time sleeping. John eventually isolated himself to his room or the corner of a quiet lounge by the window.
This is where the music therapist first met John. At first, he was sceptical of this thing called ‘music therapy’. He looked at the music therapist with questioning eyes as he reluctantly agreed to listen to some music. John said the only music that he really liked was church hymns. Frustrated, he admitted he couldn’t name any hymns because he had forgotten. The music therapist began to sing; “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” and as the familiar tune hit John’s ear he found himself singing along and remembering every word!
Following a few individual music therapy sessions, John and the music therapist began to build a relationship of trust. One afternoon, John confided to the music therapist that he no longer wanted to live and that his only prayer was that God would take him home. The music therapist suggested singing hymns that brought John comfort. Together John and the music therapist sang hymns that spoke of a faith secured in Jesus Christ: “because He lives, I can face tomorrow…”, “When peace like a river attendeth my way… it is well with my soul”, “and when I think, that God his son not sparing…how great thou art”. John sang each song with conviction, hardly missing a word. At the end of this session, he told the music therapist he didn’t know if he would see her because he hoped to be, as he pointed upwards, “up there”. The music therapist acknowledged that if John was going to be “up there”, she would see him when she got there and if not, then she would see him next week.
The therapist did see him the following week and the pair continued to sing hymns together during their music therapy sessions. John’s hymn selections often spoke of a strong conviction of his faith in Jesus Christ and the hope of one day living with him. As the sessions continued and the relationship between John and the therapist grew, John’s selection in hymns began to change. The hymns he selected began to speak more about God’s faithfulness and blessing rather than a longing for heaven. John continued to engage the music therapist in verbal conversation which usually resulted in John feeling frustrated and ashamed that he could no longer remember. But when John heard two or three notes of a familiar hymn, he began to sing fluently with confidence and conviction. While singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” John was able to freely communicate, without the burden of Dementia. His eyes would brighten and a smile would cross his face, it seemed that he had purpose again. When his brain failed to find the words use, the tune of the old familiar hymns enabled him to speak.
John continues to have individual music therapy sessions. He also participates in group music therapy sessions where he is an active and vital member. Staff members have noted that John is now attending recreational activities and initiates conversations with his table mates. John’s family has noticed that their father has started to live with a new purpose. One of John’s most treasured hymns is “I love to tell the story, t’will be my theme in glory. To tell the old, old story, of Jesus and his love”.