Article written by Matt from Cool Music Dad.
I’m so glad I did this before my grandpa with Alzheimer's passed away. It was one of the kindest things I’ve ever done for anyone I loved and it was inspired by the kindness of another. I should probably start with an introduction. My name is Matt. I run a musical project called Cool Music Dad for part-time musicians because I wanted to inspire others to use their gifts in more meaningful ways. Here’s a story about kindness and how a moment with my grandpa inspired my new project…
Giving the gift of music
I recently saw a movie about people with alzheimer's and how music unlocks their memories to brighten their dark days. My girlfriend and I meant to see “Hard Days Night” (the Beatles movie) but I got the dates wrong so instead we saw “Alive Inside” and cried our guts out. It was sad to learn about how our society treats elders with alzheimer’s like they’ve already passed away. We put them in homes and it’s out of sight out of mind. We hold on to loving memories of them while they lose all of theirs. But wait, there is a happy ending to this story I promise. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett shows us how loading up a $50 ipod full of music that your grandpa or grandma listened to, giving them headphones and pressing play can turn their day from darkness to dancing. It was inspiring to watch people who haven’t spoke a word in 10 years, start to sing along to the songs they grew up listening too. It’s because, according to science, music memory is stored in a special place in the mind. It’s the last to deteriorate from the disease and music seems to be linked to other memories as well. That’s why your grandpa or grandma can sing a song from beginning to end, but has a hard time remembering your name.
Here goes nothing
I was so inspired that I had to try this with my grandpa. He was recently diagnosed and sitting in a home. The last time I visited he didn’t remember me. It’s tough cause he was such a special part of my life. I called my Dad, Aunt and Grandma to do a little research and gather a list of songs. Grandpa liked the classic stuff...Elvis, Dean Martin, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Roger Miller, Willie...etc. We even added the “Andy Griffith theme song” cause I remembered him whistling it. “Take me out to the ballgame” since he was a baseball hero and was even asked to play for the Yankees before joining the Army. So I loaded that baby up and made plans to stop by and see him. My girlfriend and I drove from Chicago to Red Oak, IA...almost seven hours. We were on our way to South Dakota, so we just added a stop along the way. No biggie. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I was doing a lot of hoping. Grandma, my girlfriend Adrianna and I walked in, put the headphones on grandpa and pushed play. Up first was Roger Miller, King of the Road. I could hear the song start in my grandpa’s headphones. He looked up at me and sure enough started to sing along “Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents. No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes…” It was awesome! He was smiling again. We just watched as he listened and sang along for I don’t even know how long. After we left, grandma called to tell me he listened to his ipod almost every day. Grandpa passed away not too long after that. But I’m so glad to have shared that short moment of joy with him and my family. And it wasn’t hard work.
What can you do?
So here’s what you can do to tap into your kindness and spread some musical joy to loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Buy a cheap iPod and headphones. This is easy, just order one online or go to any techy store to pick one up. I recommend the iPod shuffle.
Make a playlist of songs. Call anyone that knows your relative to see what they listened to. Download full albums and load up that iPod. You can shuffle the music to keep things interesting when they listen.
Give the gift of kindness. Visit your grandpa, grandma or whoever it is and give that gift of musical kindness. You won’t regret it!
Bonus: Watch “Alive Inside”. If my little story doesn’t inspire you, that movie will. It also goes into the alzheimer's studies and shows the music in action.
Kindness is simple. It’s cool. It’s beautiful. And if you’re pickin' up what I’m puttin down and you’re a musician, check this out. It’s called Cool Music Dad and it’s a podcast/blog about doing more meaningful things with your music. It’s not just about helping people with alzheimer’s, we talk about a lot of different ways to help part-time musicians, so give it a whirl.