For well over 16 months, residents of most personal care and skilled nursing communities in Berks County haven’t been able to accept visits from friends and loved ones. Finally in late June 2021, the facility where my grandma resides communicated that visits would be allowed with pre-arranged appointments. I was on the phone that afternoon to schedule my visit!
My mom and uncle had the first visit with my grandma. It was sad. She has dementia so the natural progression of her health and not seeing her for over a year was a shock for them. I saw it for myself a week later.
Her hair seemed different, unkempt. She had lost her mobility and was now in a support chair. She had crumbs on her shirt that surely wouldn’t have been there last year. The gleam she normally had in her eyes was gone. Although I did trigger some conversation by asking about her pets when she was young and showing her pictures of my cat, it was a sad visit too.
I encouraged my sons, her great-grandchildren, to visit her, especially my youngest son, Conlan, who would be returning to his out-of-state college soon. He’s a musician so he planned to take his banjo along to pass the time and have a topic of conversation. I cautioned him that grandma wasn’t the same as when we had seen her last year. I just wanted him to be prepared for what might be a disappointing visit.
To my complete surprise and pure joy, on the day of his visit I received a text message from my mother, who had accompanied him. My mom’s text read, “It’s a great day!” and she attached a video of my grandma listening to my son’s banjo playing and tapping along. My mom’s text continued, “She even knew his name! Days like these blow me away! Music definitely has a way with people! It was like a miracle today!”
I asked my son, Conlan Kerschner, a college student attending East Tennessee State University on a Musical Performance scholarship, to share his insights from the visit. These are his words:
“The power of music has long been a topic of discussion regarding aging loved ones. I have been a hospice volunteer, providing banjo music, and have seen the impact and revival it brings to many of the aging seniors. Most recently my grandmother and I visited my great-grandmother, Dorothy, in the nursing home. She has suffered the effects of dementia for years, but we have found a spark that turns her from uninspired to engaged and participative — music!
"My great-grandmother has become less responsive as she ages and her dementia continues. She can usually be found sleeping most of the hours or simply sitting in her chair keeping to herself. On our recent visit, my grandmother and I took my great-grandma outside to enjoy the fresh air and to have some privacy, then I played my banjo for her.
"As soon as I began playing, you could see an immediate difference in her. She was attentive and her face was full of expression. She started to tap her toes, clap her hands, and even started singing! Songs like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “You Are My Sunshine” have always proved to be recognizable and interactive. The music brought her 'spunk' back.
"I have found that music has the recall-effect of associating a memory or feeling with a certain sound or melody. For seniors, the nostalgia of hearing the popular music of their time or hearing a form of music that a family member used to play can trigger these sparks of emotion. Though these sparks of life are only temporary, they are small moments of joy in their day.”
When you visit a loved one next time, be sure to take music. It has the potential to enliven and awaken them like you might have thought was no longer possible. It might prove to be a miracle visit!