Music that heals

By Norene Casas

In a pandemic, learning to adapt and adjust has taken on a new urgency. That’s no less true for people living with dementia and their caregivers who know that music heals and melodies mend. So the Caring for the Caregiver program at UT Health San Antonio changed its tune.

Grace Notes is a community choir supported by the Caring for the Caregiver program for families living with dementia. Before San Antonio’s Stay Home, Work Safe orders, the choir would meet every week to sing songs from the 1970s and ’80s after spending time visiting and catching up with each other.

“[It’s] the grace that music brings to people,” said Carole White, Ph.D., RN, professor of nursing and director of the UT Health San Antonio Caring for the Caregiver program. “It’s where they can express themselves. It sometimes opens pathways to remembering.”

Dr. White has felt the grace that music can bring during her time with her mother who has dementia. “She often cannot speak in full sentences to me, but when I play the piano for her…she can sing for hours.”

After the city’s orders, choir organizers knew the show—and the human connection—had to go on by going online.

“People are just happy to see one another and be able to connect and talk about how their week has been,” she said. As the music therapist sings, she added, “We all sing in our homes alongside her and you feel like you are still part of a choir.”

The change to an online setting was a new experience for some choir members, Dr. White said, including a woman with dementia whose daughter taught her how to join the sessions. As it turned out, the woman was very excited about the online connection and how it allowed her to continue an activity she loves.

So the choir members still meet every week, and still spend sometimes an hour just catching up and talking before the old, familiar and comforting tunes take center stage.

“For caregivers, it’s seeing their family member participating in an activity they enjoy,” said Dr. White. “It’s seeing them as another member of the choir.”

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