It was her first day of her internship at Ben Taub Hospital, and Gail Best was nervous.
“A woman heard me singing down the hall …and asked me to come sing for her daughter. The daughter looked like she was sleeping. I went to the room and sang ‘Over the Rainbow.’ About halfway through the song, the daughter opened her eyes.” said Best, certified music practitioner and graduate of Music for Healing and Transition Program at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas.
Later, a nurse told Best that the daughter had been in a coma and they had not been able to wake her.
But that is not the only miracle Best has seen in her career, for there has been many over the years. She has gone into numerous memory care units at different senior living communities and sung to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
“At one senior community, there was a man in a wheelchair. I started singing a (Frank) Sinatra song, and he started singing. He knew all the words. The nurse that worked there told me he had not said a word in two years. After the song was over, he talked to others for a while,” Best said.
Best knows the songs from the 1930s-1960s and more, the songs that most in memory care units would remember, such as “Oh Susanna, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain,” “By The Light of the Silvery Moon,” and “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey.” Plus, Elvis Presley and Sinatra songs are a big hit, as are Doris Day’s, such as “Que Sera Sera.”
Even patients who no longer communicate verbally will sit up and sing along when an old familiar tune is played.
Area senior living communities also know the power of music and use it daily.
“Music is known to evoke emotional memories or responses,” said Vini Fernandez, manager of memory care at Eagle’s Trace.
Therefore, staff make it their personal calling in the memory care at Eagle’s Trace to get to know residents on an individual basis.
“We gain insight into their personal preferences and specific life experiences. This helps us to engage each resident enjoyably in their auditory sensory-stimulation experience.
“All entertainment, musical events, and choirs are specially programmed with a person-centered approach. With the selection of music and entertainment in the memory care, residents can relate or perhaps even open up an encapsulated memory from the recesses of their minds,” Fernandez said.
Staff attempts to evoke pleasant memories from the past to create and engage residents in positive emotions such as happiness, joy, nostalgia, positivity, healing, and relaxation.
“We realize playing a certain genre of music or music from a certain era does different things,” Fernandez said.
For example, during mealtimes, playing instrumental music allows residents to focus on the meal, and is known to increase caloric intake more so than music with words.
Music is also a crucial way to enhance socialization and the interpersonal experience residents have with one another. Employees also utilize music from iPhones and YouTube when providing one-to-one care or assistance.
“Currently, we play music that send melodies through the hallways during the days and evenings. Watching the faces of our residents light up, their eyes widen, fingers and toes tapping at the table when they hear a familiar tune is a tremendously intrinsic reward for those of us providing care,” Fernandez said.
“Music is always a bright spot,” said Linda Fitzhugh, director of resident engagement, Buckner Parkway Place.
There is an added emphasis on using music in their memory care programming because of the known cognitive benefits.
“Before the pandemic, one of our residents played the piano in memory care on a regular basis. Even though many of the residents there have cognitive troubles, they can still remember the lyrics to the old standard songs. It brings them great joy,” Fitzhugh said.
Also, a member of Parkway Place’s life enrichment team plays the piano in the auditorium, and it is broadcast over one of the in-house channels.
“We also set up hallway singalongs so that our residents can open their doors and enjoy the music and fellowship in a safe environment,” she said.
“There is power in music, especially music from youth and young adult days, so that is what I hope we all can keep singing, for I know it brings smiles,” Best said.