Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Or is it?

While playing Christmas songs for a group of older adults with dementia, a family member was sitting with her mother. She (the daughter) started crying when I played and sang Silent Night. I discovered through talking with her, that it was triggering Christmas memories and bringing her to the realization that her mother was no longer the same, and that Christmas was no longer the way she remembered.

It had already occurred to me that while these songs might bring the client back to some happier times, it might also evoke sadness if they were cognitively aware enough of the changes in their situation. However, I never truly considered the impact on the family members until I witnessed it first hand in my session. I know that dementia is extremely hard on the family especially around the holidays, but somehow during this particular sing-a-long, I was expecting "comfort and joy". By the way, she did thank me for the music at the end of the session and said that it felt good and cathartic to cry.

So now I've had my "ah-ha" moment and will address the holidays with more sensitivity. While in hindsight this is seemingly obvious, it was a career eye opener for me, because any "happy" occasion can be laden with sad memories. Of course I'm prepared for and aware of these reactions during the sessions, they still catch me off guard sometimes. I am curious to hear your thoughts on this.

My question is to you, the music therapy world, what have your experiences been in situations like this? Have you experienced this with other populations? And how do you address these issues in your practice?

May your days be merry and bright,


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