Music and Self-Identity
Music is often seen as an integral part of our self identity, and this continues into later life. Music is closely linked with personal memories, and it is thought that we remember most the music from our teenage years and early twenties; this is seen as our reminiscence ‘peak’. As we grow older it is important for us to maintain our identity and personhood; in this respect music can ‘be understood as a transformer and metaphor in people’s lives that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life.’ (Hays & Minichello, 2005: 263).
Within a care environment many people feel that they have lost the opportunity to be an individual. Their daily routine may be decided for them, when they eat, what they eat, when they have a bath etc. This can lead to a loss of identity. Moving to a care home may mean that friendships outside of it are broken, and the relationships in a person’s life may change. The relationships we sustain are part of our identities, and the breaking down of these can contribute to a loss of identity.
Music is a way of presenting our identities. Everyone has favourite songs and songs that have been meaningful throughout their lives, such as wedding song, songs you listened to in teenage years, and songs that remind you of certain people. Music is powerful in this way, it can jog memories, and ignite a sense of self-worth. It is part of who we are and our life experience.
Music is a huge part of my life, and as a teenager it feels it played an even bigger role for me, I used music as a vehicle for self-expression, I liked to think of myself as a rebel, listening to Metallica, Nirvana, Greenday, Blink 182 when the rest of my class was into Usher, Nelly, Justin Timerlake and other more mainstream music. I wore jumpers with the names of my favourite bands, I spent ages cataloguing my CDs so I could listen to my music (at full volume!) on the bus, I used poignant lyrics by my favourite band and used in my MSN messenger status (now I’m just giving my age away!) Even now when I hear the songs I used to listen to back then I’m reminded of the feeling that this music listening used to give me. In reality I was the least rebellious teenager, studying hard, doing what my parents told me even if this was reluctantly! However, through my music listening it provided me with a sense of being rebellious, in a way I lived vicariously through the bands that I followed.
The feeling that came about from this music listening is something that is important to consider when using music in dementia care. Often we see people living with dementia remembering long lost memories due to listening to particular pieces of familiar music; however, even if the person is unable to communicate this memory, we may find that the feeling of this memory still remains. For example, listening to the piece of music played at our first wedding dance might still bring back the same feelings feeling of love, excitement, joy even if the person is unable to explain that they are feeling this way because the piece was played at their wedding,
I’m a huge fan of David Sheard’s, and his ethos that feelings matter most. I truly believe this too, and by using meaningful music delivered at an individual level connecting with the individual’s life history, we can help to connect people living with dementia with their emotions, with their feelings, with themselves.