My aunt has been struggling with Parkinson’s Disease for a while now. Her mind is still agile, but she has trouble getting out words. They’re sometimes a whisper when she does finally speak them. More often than not she has to stop, breathe and start over before she can form a short sentence. It’s heartbreaking because (and this with all due respect) this is a woman who loved to yell. Even now, when my cousins start teasing each other, you hear her loud and clear.
Another time she speaks clearly is when she’s singing along to her favorite songs. Her speech therapist said for her to sing her words, and the tactic really works when Sinatra or Motown is on the radio. I noticed this because my cousin has 50’s and 60’s stations set up on Sirius XM in her car. My aunt will sometimes avoid speaking more than one word at a time, but if the right song comes on, she belts out the lyrics.
I got the idea to download Pandora onto the iPhone she just got for Christmas. (This phone is actually better for her because she can type easier. Her hands shake, so with her old phone, we all had to decipher her short, jumbled texts. Now with auto-complete the messages make a lot more sense.) My aunt and I created a 50’s and a 60’s station, then I told her to click “shuffle” if she wants to combine them. I hope she’ll play around with it and find more stations she likes.
More than that, I hope she sings along all day, every day. Maybe the practice will improve her speech when she’s not singing.
To me it’s not surprising that music would help in this situation. Sometimes, even I feel better after a favorite song comes on the radio. Personally I love a song that tells a good story, or takes me back to a time before I was born. Of course, like most, I also love songs I remember from my childhood. While listening to the radio with my family, I often think about how my aunts were teenagers or in their twenties when these 50’s and 60’s classics were new.
It constantly amazes me how I can’t remember what I had for dinner last Monday, but I can effortlessly recall songs from my favorite Spice Girls CD. Like many others, I wonder how much more efficient my brain would be if it wasn’t crowded with lyrics acquired over the course of a lifetime.
Then I realize maybe I’ll be singing along to 90’s hits on satellite radio in fifty years.
There is a proven connection between Parkinson’s Disease and music therapy. Check out these links for more information.