Senior Insight: Elderly brightened by music

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Music for the soul

When I was a kid, I absolutely adored Davy Jones, the singer from the Monkees. I was so infatuated that I sulked through an entire vacation with my parents because everyone I knew was going to the Monkees concert in Boston that week while I was stuck on Cape Cod with my old (actually they were in their 30s) boring parents. I’d give my right arm for a vacation with my parents on Cape Cod about now, but that memory reminds me of the days when so many of us cherished our transistor radios as they played the latest songs by the Monkees, the Beatles, the Supremes, and so many others. Some of the staff here at Live Oak Adult Day Services couldn’t get through a day back then without a song by Elvis Presley or Bobby Sherman or Three Dog Night.
Our Live Oak senior citizens may have owned different radios during their teenage years, but they, too. recall swooning over the singers of their day. Doris actually saw Frank Sinatra in concert when she was a teenager. She says he was “as thin as a rail.” And when all the girls started screaming, she joined in because she thought maybe everyone was expected to scream. Rob really liked Sinatra, too, for his unique way with a song. Carolyn loved to go and see all her musical “crushes” in concert, including Dean Martin and Engelbert Humperdinck, but she still regrets not seeing an Elvis concert. “He was the vocalist of the century,” she insists.
Bill was such a big fan of the Beatles when he was growing up that he recently went to see the Beatles tribute show, “Rain,” and says it brought back such great memories. Tillie smiles remembering her fondness for the amazing melodies of Swing era star Glenn Miller. Barry worked in area fields picking apricots with a budding singer named Ricardo Valenzuela, who went on to fame as Richie Valens. Barry says Richie sang as he picked fruit, and it was obvious he’d be a success.
Growing up in Texas, Paul really enjoyed the western music of Gene Autry. Another cowboy star he admired was Tom Mix, who actually toured with a circus. Paul says Mix would bring his circus to town on train cars, and during the show he’d use his pistol to shoot out lights up high by the tent’s roof. It was thrilling for a child to see.
Many thousands of YouTube viewers marveled recently over a video showing a very depressed senior in a nursing home transformed when headphones are slipped on and the music of his youth is played. He lifts his head, smiles and is much more animated.
Music is powerful. Researchers at Boston University are finding fascinating links between music and memory. They found that regardless of memory loss, people still retain their appreciation for music. It triggers an emotional response, especially the iconic music of their younger days. According to Natalie Wolchover’s LiveScience online article, neurologists now think it may be possible to teach forgetful seniors to take their medicine by using singing rather than written instructions.
All I know is when our Live Oak seniors gather to hear a pianist playing “Good Night Irene” or a choir singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” they are transported back to an earlier, sweeter time.
If you care for a senior relative or visit a senior in a nursing home, bring some of the music of their younger days and watch how they light up.
Cheryl Huguenor is the program director at Live Oak Adult Day Services, 651 W. Sixth St. #2, Gilroy, and in Willow Glen, Cupertino and Los Gatos. For more information about Live Oak call (408) 847-5491 or go to liveoakadultdaycare.org.

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