By Tanya Miller, Co-Chair of the 2021 Boca Raton Walk To End Alzheimer’s
Updated Dec. 28, 2021
What happens when you hear a familiar tune? Oftentimes a song can spark a memory and evoke a range of emotions taking you back to a familiar time and place. Music has the power to encourage foot tapping, body swaying, humming or just bring out pure joy to so many. This is what happened back in 2017 when my then 14-year-old son, Ben, began to sing old nostalgic classics by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and many others to my mom (his grandma), who has Alzheimer’s. When her communication skills started to dwindle, he found that when he sang an old familiar tune to her, she would hum along and often finish the lines to the lyrics.
Music is the universal language. Even if your loved one can’t fully sing along or understand the words, music evokes emotion. Ben often asks my mom to dance with him, as he sings to her, and she immediately jumps at the chance. As caregivers, it is our job to protect and look after our loved ones, making them feel comfortable. Our family found a way to do just that through the arts. There are many forms of art that can be done as a family project which will be fulfilling and create joy. Here are some examples:
- Sing old nostalgic songs with your loved one (songs that are familiar).
- Dance with your loved one to music that they enjoy.
- Play instruments like the piano, tambourine or maracas with your loved one.
- Draw pictures using paint, markers or crayons with your loved one.
- Read books or magazines with your loved one.
These art mediums can bring out communication without words. The feedback received can often tell a story too.
Several years into my mom’s diagnosis, we decided to explore art therapy. She was resistant at first but then she grew to enjoy it. In the beginning of the session the therapist plays music and my mom and her will dance together. Then they take out instruments like tambourines or maracas and they will keep a beat to the music. Afterwards, they sit down and create art masterpieces using acrylic paint, watercolor, mosaics, collaging and many other art mediums. Through these sessions, my mom is able to express her mood based on the colors she draws with that day.
Last July, I took 10 of my most favorite art drawings and had notecards made up with my mom’s art featured on the front cover. I did this as a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. And to continue with our arts-based theme, my son Ben hosted two benefit concerts to honor his grandma and raise money too.
On December 21, my son Ben once again shared his musical talents with the Alzheimer’s Association Florida chapters on the Longest Day Winter Solstice Luminary Ceremony. We gathered via Zoom in honor of all those affected by Alzheimer’s as we heard from a few friends and shine a light during the longest night of the year. Everyone could light their own luminary or candle of hope as we joined together to outshine the darkness of Alzheimer’s. Ben played the piano and sang as we all light our luminaries. Watch the event here.
May we all continue to spark joy and light in our loved ones’ lives as we travel through this journey together.
About Tanya Miller
Tanya Miller has been a family caregiver since 2015. She served on the Boca Raton Walk To End Alzheimer’s committee for the past 3 years and was a proud co-chair of this year’s 2021 walk. In 2020 and 2021 she presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s National Fundraising FundamentALZ workshop, speaking to audiences of over 1,000 people. In February of 2020 Tanya went to Tallahassee, Florida to lobby at the state capital for the Alzheimer’s Association in their annual “Rally in Tally” event. She is a proud member of AIM (Alzheimer’s Impact Movement) and is committed to raising awareness and funds so that one day we will see a world without Alzheimer’s.