South Charlotte

Generations: My mom's long journey is full of singing

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother, Rose Beebe, 88, singing to me: nursery rhymes, patriotic songs, Christmas carols, church hymns, advertising jingles.

Mom wasn't always on key, but her enthusiasm was infectious and I followed her lead. I cherished snuggling up on the couch next to her to devour each episode of Lawrence Welk, Dean Martin and Dinah Shore's TV shows.

Because of Mom's melodic madness, music has always been an important part of my life and I passed that gene onto my daughter, Jazlyn, 17, serenading her with an eclectic repertoire that spanned from Broadway showtunes to heavy metal to rhythm and blues.

Today, the three of us are still singing, crooning songs that were popular during Mom's earlier years.

Mom has Alzheimer's and the lyrics to songs from her past are some of the few memories she has from days gone by. As her Alzheimer's has progressed to the late stages, music has proven to be excellent medicine. It calms her down when she's agitated, perks her up when she is sad and brings joy when there isn't much to be happy about.

According to The Alzheimer's Association, music therapy has been proven to help cognitive functions, social skills and agitation in dementia patients. It can ease anxiety and depression, improve sleep and mood and coordinate motor movements, thus enhancing the quality of life for patients and caregivers.

Tom Sharp, the healthy generation activity director at Legacy Heights Memory Care, has worked with dementia patients for 10 years. He engages Mom and her friends with concerts and "name that tune" contests and also uses selected songs to remind residents of mealtimes and to help some with their activities of daily living, like dressing and grooming.

"Music had been proven to be one of the last memories dementia patients lose," he said.

This is because rhythmic responses require little to no mental processing and are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds to auditory rhythmic cues.

A person's ability to engage in music remains intact late into the disease.

Jazlyn and I regularly attend the sing-a-longs at Legacy Heights and enjoy interacting with Mom and her buddies.

It isn't long after Sharp starts banging out tunes on the piano that the haze of Alzheimer's starts to lift - toes tap, arthritic hands clap, heads bob and lips move, perfectly reciting lyrics to "Blue Moon" and "You Are My Sunshine."

I can almost imagine my senior friends as the vibrant, young men and women they once were.

No matter what mood Mom is in, she comes alive and into the present moment. She is precious, confidently belting out each tune as she sings off key and claps off the beat. (I don't know where I got my sense of rhythm from because it sure didn't come from her.)

Jazlyn and I dance with our beloved friends, waltzing with those that can walk and holding hands and swaying with residents in wheelchairs. The room fills up with smiles and joy.

Mom has always been a bit obsessed with Sharp and somewhat of a groupie. When she was able to walk, she'd get out of her chair and stand at the piano, performing for her friends like they were a lounge act. He's always been a sport, allowing Mom to be his sidekick.

Now the staff puts her wheelchair right beside him and she continues to relish the spotlight.

After their shows are over, she is always exhilarated and for a brief time I feel like I have my mother back.

Singing with Mom brings the three of us comfort as we manage the challenges of her Alzheimer's. I still curl up with her sometimes like I did when I was a child, only now I'm rubbing her back and singing lullabies to her.

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are," I whisper into her ear. She replies back, her voice as feeble as her body now, "Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky."

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are." I embrace her as we finish our song together and pray that we continue to get through the long goodbye one sweet note at a time.

Editor's note: In Lisa Moore's 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.