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Grateful for music in my mother's life

The Patriot Ledger - 1/27/2020

SSC Memory Cafes provide an opportunity to those with memory loss and their care partners to share activities that help with cognitive awareness, in a safe, supportive environment.

By Elaine SorrentinoIt's really hard to watch someone you love struggle with Alzheimer's disease. I should know. My mother has been living with it for a few years now. From the outside, she looks like the same person " perhaps a bit grayer, and, with bad knees, she now uses a walker to zip around. But the quick-witted, problem-solving, outgoing person she once was, lies dormant inside her. Her usual self-confidence has flown. With that loss comes a constant anxiety. And she's somewhat aware of her new limitations, which creates frustration and confusion. On some level she realizes what she perceives is not what is necessarily so.

I know I cannot take away her disease. But what I can do is assuage her fears, and partake in activities that calm her and make her happy, even if just for the moment. With the beautiful weather we experienced two Saturdays ago, I grabbed my mother from senior housing, picked up a pizza and headed to the beach. Together we sat there with the warm, gentle breeze coming through the open window, enjoying our snack, gazing out at the water. She was calm and peaceful, and she smiled as she remarked, 'The water is so soothing.' You can be sure we'll do that outing again, very soon.

Perhaps the most effective activity that puts my mother in that cognitive sweet spot is music. Any type of music that is melodious will do the trick. When music starts, it's like there's nothing else in her world that matters, and immediately her attention turns to what she is hearing. The brain that cannot remember what she just ate for lunch, recalls words to songs from 80 years ago. Songs from her childhood, songs her mother sang, songs her children blared from the stereo, songs her grandchildren played in Boston clubs. (Yes, she was still going to clubs to see her grandchildren well into her late 70's!) Happiness takes the place of confusion. It's truly magic.

I'm grateful that her senior housing facility, recognizing these benefits, offers musical performances and sing-alongs twice a week. As I sit next to her and join in the fun, I am grateful to have an activity I can still enjoy with my mother, putting us on an equal playing field. Wait, what am I saying? She knows many more songs than me. In a 'who knows the word' competition, she'd leave me in the dust!

For individuals experiencing memory loss, who do not have access to music and other brain-stimulating activities, South Shore Conservatory encourages them to participate in one or two SSC Memory Caf' sessions per month. Each caf' offers activities designed for cognitive awareness, and encourages individuals and care partners to enjoy creative arts activities, including music, dance, and visual art, and to share refreshments and conversation with others. Participants choose their own level of interaction and participation.

South Shore Conservatory's two free SSC Memory Caf' programs take place the third Thursday at Laura's Center for the Arts, from 12:30-2:30 pm at 97 Mill Street in Hanover, and the first Tuesday of the month, from 10:30 am " 12:30 pm at SSC's Ellison Center for the Arts, 64 St. George Street, Duxbury. The Hanover caf' is generously funded by the Middleton Family Foundation. The Duxbury caf' is generously funded by the Harry C. and Mary Elizabeth Grafton Memorial Fund, Bank of America, N.A., co-trustee. Although there is no cost to participants, registration is requested by contacting Eve Montague, MT-BC, Director, Creative Arts Therapies, at 781-934-2731, x20, or e.montague@sscmusic.org.

Elaine Sorrentino is South Shore Conservatory's Communications Director.

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