When Words Don’t Work

In February, my Grandma died after a long and valiant internal battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was my best friend, my adventure buddy and my safe place while growing up. We would chat happily for hours while playing cards, watching the Blue Jays, and going for walks during the weeks when I would visit. But, in the last year of her life I found it extremely difficult to communicate with her. A self-defined ‘engagement expert’, I struggled to know what to say. And, apart from occasional glimpses of ‘my’ Grandma, I didn’t know if she could even understand the random small talk I did come up with when visiting. It was frustrating. And sad. And heartbreaking.

‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’ – Alzheimer Society of Toronto

This month is World Alzheimer’s Month. I want to tell you about a project I wish I had known about sooner. A project that is taking engagement to the next level.  It’s called ‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’. And it has been launched by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. It’s big. And it’s brave. And it works.

How It Works

People diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their families or carers are given an iPSenior with ipodod and support to create playlists. The idea is that the playlists contain music that brings forth memories for the person with Alzheimer’s. Music may be related to particular moments in their life or particular eras. This video Can Music Heal? by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, demonstrates the transformation that takes place for individuals with dementia and the people around them when the iPod is being used.

Connection is created, shared experiences are generated and happiness governs the interaction. A commonality exists between people where there was little before. And I Happy familyimagine that there are so many more ‘good’ moments. These are great moments for us as family members as we experience the fleeting presence of our loved one. We cherish these moments even more as they slowly disappear in quantity and quality as the disease progresses. Sharing music and memory enables the kind of engagement that family members crave but are often at a loss to generate through conversation. The iPod Project is creating a space that moves beyond talk and uncomfortable silence. It’s helping people with Alzheimer’s and family members share heart space.

At the risk of completely sabotaging my business proposition at The Write Word, I will leave you with this. The iPod Project demonstrates that engagement starts with the heart and that there are many more ways to communicate with each other beyond words. Connection can be created through caring, music, shared memories and happy ‘now’ moments. And, we must value these moments wherever possible as we do not know how many we have in our lifetime. As I write this, it strikes me that although it was difficult to know what to say to my Grandma near the end, my heart was very much available to her. I think she may have understood that. Even though I had no words.

Show Your Support at the Movies Tonight!

Tonight is a special showing of ‘Alive Inside’, the documentary that inspired the ‘Music and Memory – iPod Project’ at Alzheimer Society of Toronto. It is at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Doors open at 6.15pm.

Alive Inside follows Dan Cohen, a social worker who tries to bring personalized music to nursing homes after discovering its ability to awaken deeply-locked memories in people with dementia. A Q&A session with film director Michael Rossato-Bennett hosted by Cynthia Mulligan, anchor and reporter at CityNews, will follow the screening.

Donations of used iPods and additional contributions will be accepted at the theatre. All proceeds go to the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. For more information, please contact Kimberlee Waymann at 416-640-6327 or by email at kwaymann@alzheimertoronto.org.

If you are unable to make it to the screening and want to support this incredible project OR you want to find out more about the movie, visit www.alzheimertoronto.org

Help create MORE happy memories for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families.

And what say you, the reader? Please share your thoughts!