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My Mom

Why am I so passionate about music therapy for seniors with neurodegenerative diseases?

My Mom was the first person who told me about music therapy when I was considering a career change. During my internship, my mom was diagnosed with glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer that is not very treatable. By the time her cancer was discovered, it had grown to 9 centimeters in size! She had lost her way around the city in Florida she had lived in for twenty plus years and was having cognitive and physical deficits and began losing her speech. The week of her 75th birthday she underwent brain surgery where 80% of the mass was removed. She then went through chemotherapy and radiation for six weeks. She regained her strength enough to fly to Oklahoma for my graduation from Southwestern Oklahoma State University.  Two months later, her health was declining again. The cancer was aggressively growing. The day I passed my board-certification exam, she was admitted into hospice.  By the time she was in hospice, she had lost her communication skills as well as other physical abilities. While in hospice, I suggested to my brother, also a musician, that he sing to her while taking care of her personal care duties. He would sing hymns and songs from musicals she knew well. And guess what? Mom sang along with him! This brought joy to both my mom and my brother. Mom would smile and sing along with him. Music brought my family together and created quality of life experiences to share during a difficult time.

While in college, I had a practicum at the local assisted living and memory care center. One of my first experiences working with a group in memory care included a client with late-stage Alzheimer’s.  She used to play piano, organ and sing. Her eye contact was very limited, and she was non-verbal. When we sang or played instruments she would hum along and try to sing. Her foot would begin tapping to the beat or moving as if playing an organ. The last session we used a small parachute with the group. She was able to hold onto it with assistance while we sang and rolled a ball back and forth. She laughed while using the parachute. At the end we sang Amazing Grace. When I knelt to tell her goodbye, she looked me in the eye and clear as a bell she stated “I like that song”. That’s the power of music!

Music…can name the un-nameable and communicate the unknowable. - Leonard Bernstein

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