Dementia Shakes its Booty at Rock ‘n Roll

At long last, some good news in the headlines. Scientists think losing your marbles does not necessarily mean losing your musical edge. In short, when you’re old and gray and the best part of your pureed day is having someone wipe the drool off your chin, you may still be able to remember how to sing all the words to Herman Hermit’s iconic hit “Henry VIII.”

Forget about dementia’s unfortunate downside–little things like you can’t remember your kids’ names or why you gave birth to them–or, for that matter, don’t grieve over the upside–the fact that you can no longer recognize the three stupid spouses you divorced or that you’re finally at your perfect weight after all these years. Your IQ may be in the teens, but you still will be able to sing a duet with Willie Nelson or Barbra Streisand, provided they can find their way to your nursing home. Okay, you may have to put up with the singing harmonica player, but it’s worth it if you really groove to “Sunrise Sunset.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not as thrilled about the Beach Boys now as when I was 16, had just gotten my driver’s license and was fighting gridlock on the Garden State Parkway on the way to the Jersey shore.

Dementia is the one thing about old age that really sticks in my craw. It may have something to do with the fact that my mother’s memory and cognitive awareness became so muddled toward the end  that playing a Frank Sinatra tape was one of the few stimuli she responded to. Now every time I hear “Strangers in the Night” I get a flashback of horror akin to what PTSD-afflicted veterans say they experience when they hear a loud noise. Only for me, the ker-boom isn’t an IED, but rather the knowledge that Frankie Blue Eyes eventually died from dementia, too.

Still, I must admit that after giving it some thought, if push comes to shove and I have to make my way down that long dark tunnel of mental and emotional amnesia known as senility (before I make a left at the fork and head toward the light), I’m going to look forward to a few of the musical perks:

1. I’ll have my smart phone with its 100 Best-Loved Tunes of the 20th  Century next to my motorized wheelchair, and any time a relative whom I can’t or don’t want to  recall asks  to speak with me, I’ll just tap on a song like “Bye Bye Blackbird” and play it at max volume.

2. If I get creative and make up some of the words to one of those incomprehensible songs like “Norwegian Wood,” no one in the Old Folks Home will look shocked since I’ll be officially demented. What they won’t know is I never did know the words.

3. I’ll sing or hum my favorite songs repeatedly–and love them- because I won’t remember I just heard them.

4. I won’t have to fake harmonizing because no one in their right mind would expect a demented person to understand the melodic principles behind harmony.

5. I’ll organize the first all-dementia patient a capella chorus and smile my way onto “America’s Got Talent.”

It’s occurred to me that like all evidence-based therapies, music therapy may be replaced by something a little sexier by the time my brain cortex decides to shrivel up and revert to a no-man’s land. Something else may replace it, perhaps a new therapy like golf or tic-tac-toe. I hope not, though; I was always a good hummer.


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