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Music a 'miraculous medicine'

When my mother, Rose, 87, moved into a nearby memory-care facility two years ago, neither of us were prepared for the radical changes we'd face.

Mom had lived alone for 20 years, working full-time until she was 79. With her Alzheimer's disease advancing and weakened by a mini stroke, my siblings and I made the difficult decision to place her in a facility. Suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver, I was unprepared for the toll this endeavor would take on my heart and on my life as a single mom.

Struggling to adjust our new situations, Mom and I both became depressed. I couldn't imagine her condition improving - but I underestimated her resilient spirit.

As the weeks passed, I started to accept Mom's condition and the role I would play in it, and Mom began to flourish in her new surroundings.

A compassionate team of professionals helped rehabilitate Mom and get her settled into her new home. Physical therapists worked with her to increase strength and mobility. Occupational therapists assisted her with dressing, eating and grooming skills. Because she couldn't remember where her room or bathroom was, they put signs in many places to cue her memory. Over time, she could proudly locate her room, which we had decorated just like the one she had at her house.

The caregivers got to know as much as they could about Mom's life so they could engage in conversation with her. When I met each one, I was surprised at how much they already knew about me, my daughter, Jazlyn, 16, and my siblings.

I quickly realized that Mom's facility was like a college dormitory, only dementia-style. Residents wandered in and out of each other's rooms, "borrowing" items. Sometimes I'd see other women wearing Mom's clothes or carrying her shoes around in their walker. Photos of people I'd never seen would appear in Mom's room, along with random hairbrushes, address books and blankets. And Mom accumulated quite a collection of jewelry. Every time I visited, she would be wearing a new necklace or watch. I think she could have opened a pawn shop.

I soon learned the senior dress code was very relaxed. It was normal to sometimes see pants on backwards, shoes on the wrong feet or folks in their pajamas all day. They may not have been perfectly matched, but at least they were dressing themselves.

One thing Mom really responded to was music therapy. Each day the residents would gather to listen to the activity director bang out tunes like "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "California Here We Come" on the piano.

All of a sudden, arthritic hands would start clapping, heads would bob and memories would wake. Even people who rarely reacted would perk up and smile.

It amazed me that Mom couldn't recall what happened minutes before but could precisely belt out tunes from her era. She instantly became confident and energized. My heart melted to watch her having fun again after being so physically and mentally devastated a few months before.

Jazlyn and I enjoyed dancing with our senior buddies, whether we were twirling around the room with them or doing the waltz with a laughing gentleman in a wheelchair. Some folks bounced up and down behind their walkers, while others could do the twist.

For those 30 minutes each day, there was a magic in the room that seemed to liberate people from reality. Melody and movement became miraculous medicine, triggering precious memories and stimulating the senses.

As I watched Mom joyously expressing herself, I knew she would be fine in her new home.

And if she could enjoy life again, so could I.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's new column, "Generations," she writes about the challenges and healing she experiences as a member of the Sandwich Generation: those caring for a parent and a child.