Music is a Powerful Tool for Memory!

Has a song ever come on the radio and you’re instantly transported back to a time from your youth?  It’s more than just a memory—it’s so vivid you can practically smell it and taste it and feel it.  In fact, the detail may be sharper than something much more recent.


Record player

Why is that?

Music can help to encode memories. The very structure of music—with melody and phrasing—makes it easier to recall later.  When young children are trying to learn the alphabet, we often use a sing-song tune to make it easier to remember and sing along, “now I know my A, B, C,’s…”.  The tune of the music serves as a cue for memory. When your brain struggles to retrieve the information from the hippocampus directly, the cue of the melody and rhythm associated with the information provides an alternate route to access the same information.


If you try and memorize a list of words, you’d be using your explicit memory.  Explicit memory is intentional—you concentrate on recalling the past. It’s the type of memory that allows you to answer factual questions like: who, what, where, when and why. 


Implicit memory, on the other hand, is less intentional. It happens almost unconsciously as you absorb information through a combination of all of your senses, and thus uses numerous parts of the brain.  Implicit memory is often very powerful and connected to a strong emotional reaction.  Music connects to implicit memory and can often draw out strong emotions.


When that song comes on the radio and instantly transports you back to your youth, it is implicit memory that is connecting the music and emotion.  In fact, the emotion you feel may not even match the emotion in the song; a sad song may evoke memories of a happy time, or a happy song could be associated with a sad memory.  You may also notice that the music which triggers the strongest memories typically comes from your youth—your teenage years and your twenties. 


This time in life is characterized by gaining independence and having many new experiences, all set to the soundtrack of the era. Often, it will be the pop music of the era, the top 20 or top 50 hits that are being played everywhere you go which further cement the memories and the music as being very specific to that timeframe.


Because music connects to implicit memories and strong emotions of the past, it can be a successful tool to help people access memory when their explicit memory system is not retrieving memories as efficiently.  If someone’s explicit memory has been damaged by dementia or Alzheimer’s, or if they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury such as a stroke, music can create a bridge to implicit memories.


a microphone for singing

Music can also affect speech.

While it would seem like singing and speaking are pretty similar functions, our brains perceive them as totally different activities.  Speaking is a left-brain activity whereas singing is a right brain activity.  When someone suffers a stroke to the left side of their brain, speech is typically affected.  They may have expressive aphasia where they know exactly what they want to say, but the words won’t come out.  Fascinatingly though, people with aphasia are often able to sing!  If the left-brain stroke did not affect the right side of the brain, then the ability to sing may remain intact. Once set to a melody, it becomes possible to utter words.


Initially, someone may be able to sing the words to a familiar song. Over time, they can train their brain to sing alternate words to the same familiar tune.


Beyond the possibilities of speech, music can serve as a form of communication. It is a way to connect with someone who otherwise can’t speak or otherwise communicate. It offers the opportunity to share a moment together where you can be completely present, enjoying the music. By selecting music that matches their youthful era, you can help your elderly loved ones to revisit strong, emotional implicit memories from their youth.  You may be surprised and delighted at the strong emotional reactions that music can create.


So break out the old records and cassettes, or create a custom playlist, and crank up the volume!

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Dignified Care means Allowing Sufficient Time

Homecare can be defined pretty broadly and mean different things to different people. To some, it might mean dropping in to check on someone for 5 or 10 mins, for someone else it could be 24/7 care in someone’s home.  It could be just about anything in between!


To ensure that our clients receive the best possible service, we have placed parameters around the type of service we can offer to ensure top quality.  Here at Warm Embrace, the minimum visit length we offer is three hours. We have set this minimum to ensure that we are fulfilling our mission and our philosophy of care



Within the context of homecare, where an elderly client is living in their own home, apartment or condo, there are some additional reasons why the three-hour minimum is necessary.


Have you ever dropped by your elderly parents’ home with the intent of staying for a half hour visit?  How did that turn out?  I’m willing to bet that you stayed much longer than just 30 minutes! Why is that?


I’m guessing that by the time you got in the door and settled, got caught up with some friendly chit-chat and had a coffee, you were already at the 30-minute mark.  Just as you were thinking you would head out the door, your mother mentioned a new symptom that’s bothering her.  You discussed that and tried to track down whether a doctor’s appointment had been made since your mother couldn’t remember. Then your father mentioned that the microwave wasn’t working properly so they weren’t sure what they were going to have for dinner.  The next thing you know, you’re busy making dinner for them and your quick 30-minute drop-in lasted a few hours.


Of course, your parents tend to stock-pile all the issues until you arrive. Then it takes longer to address everything.  The same is true for our visits.  Clients may save up the dishes and the housekeeping and laundry pile up.  The items you plan in advance that you figure might take an hour or so end up taking much longer when the list keeps growing!


It’s not just about tasks; it’s also about pacing.


If you personally have a doctor’s appointment at 11 am, how much time do you allow yourself to get showered, dressed, ready and out the door?  Now, what if your parents have a doctor’s appointment at 11 am?  It takes a lot more time since every step in the process needs to be adjusted to allow the extra time they may require or prefer.


It likely takes much longer for them to manage to get in and out of the shower.  Selecting an outfit and dressing likely takes longer, as does personal grooming and other morning routines.  Physically getting into and out of the car may take longer, and your parents may prefer to be at the appointment 20 minutes early instead of arriving just on time. . .despite the fact that the doctor is always behind schedule and you know you’ll end up waiting anyway!


Out of respect for your parents, we allow significant time for outings to ensure that we can match their preferred pace, not our preferred pace.  We know that each stage will take much longer and that we need to allow lots of extra time should something unexpected arise.  If we’re just getting your parents settled in the car and your mother suddenly needs the washroom once more before leaving, we need to have allowed lots of extra time to deal with the (somewhat) unexpected. 


For your parents’ sake, we would never attempt to accomplish an outing in only an hour long shift.  Part of providing dignified care is allowing sufficient time for outings and errands and matching your parents’ pace, not necessarily just focusing on fastest efficiency.  It takes time to do things well and the minimum time we need to ensure top quality is three hours.


Granting your parents the dignity of matching their preferred pace, ensuring that we have extra time built in for the unexpected, and knowing that they may have a stockpiled list ready for our arrival are all part of how we plan in advance to meet your parents’ needs. 


Relationships are about so much more than speed and efficiency; your parents will thrive from the attention they receive from a wonderful caregiver who takes the time to appreciate them for who they are and who gets to know them on a personal level without rushing.

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