Have you seen the Disney Pixar film Inside Out?
One of the main characters is a eleven year old girl called Riley. In her mind she has five personifications of her emotions- Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and anger. These characters influence her mind via a main console in her mind. As she moves through her life, her experiences become memories that are stored in coloured orbs. These are then sent to her long term memory every night. Her five most important “core memories” which are the most important are housed in a sore that powers “islands”, each reflecting an aspect of her personality- and thus her identity.
I found this film very enjoyable, and apart from that it reminded me of the vital role our memories play in our lives. In his book “ the forgetting – Understanding Alzheimer’s: A Biography of a Disease” David Shenk states that “ We are the sum of our memories. Everything we know, everything we perceive, every movement we make is shaped by them.” One of the most central traits of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is a type, is memory loss and a gradual decline of functioning. The brain is taken over by the disease and this results in loss of memory recollection (which can be one of the first signs of the disease), ability to recognise family and friends and the ability to communicate. Our Identities are informed by our past experiences but if we can not remember these it is impossible to maintain a sense of self and identity.
The positive effects of music on people with a diagnosis of dementia are well documented. A person at any stage of dementia can participate in music, whether that be singing or playing instruments, to listening whilst lying in bed. Familiar music has been found to be particularly effective in this area, invoking memories and aiding discussion of life experiences especially childhood memories.
There was once a lady in the advanced stages of dementia. Her speech was very limited and she found it hard to communicate. One day her grand-daughter went into her nursing home to see her Gran. When her grand-daughter arrived the lady was pacing up and down the hallway, evidently quite agitated. The grand-daughter took the lady by the hand and encouraged her to sit. Together they sang. They sang old songs that they used to sing when the grand-daughter was young. The lady could recall the words and then they started to chat about living together a long time ago. Shared moments of recollection of their lives.
Music can be the gateway to memories. It can ignite them and provide moments of clarity for a person that is otherwise quite lost in the world. It can provide a shared experience for a person with dementia and their family in a way nothing else can. With these memories a persons identity can be witnessed. A farmer who sings songs of green fields, a football fan who knows the songs of the stands, a loving grandmother who smiles as she sings the songs of her childhood. Music can help us understand a person, inside out.
Training and Development Manager