Have you ever been so tired that a stop light seemed like a blessing? You close your eyes for just a second and take a deep breath, trying to catch a wisp of the tiniest second – or maybe third wind?

Years ago, when I was starting a school, I had day after day with little rest. My mind was packed with to-do lists, problems to be solved and papers to sign. I would wake in the night, panicked that I had not signed the right papers or that children were unattended.

My mind would frantically try to remember what papers I needed to sign. Sometimes I would even get up and walk into the hallway of our home, sure I needed to do something.

My best friend finally solved the ‘sign the papers panic’ by advising me to leave a note on my bedside table that said, “The papers are signed.” It worked. She’s brilliant.

Red Light, Green Light

During those difficult years, I would relish even that red light telling me to stop. I would close my eyes and take a deep breath. Believe it or not, I got good at knowing how long a stop light would last before changing color.

Other times, I would give myself one extra minute standing under the hot shower. I would say to myself, “You can have this one minute. Your day will still be OK if you take just this one extra minute for yourself.”

An even better strategy I developed was the rest I ‘claimed’ while listening to music. I would often have some music playing while I worked at home or in my office. If a song came on that I truly loved, I would give myself the length of the song to rest.

I would close my eyes and just listen. Most songs are about two minutes and fourty seconds. I chose to be grateful for even that amount of time during my day when I could relax, rest and renew.

Seem crazy? Well it worked. I still didn’t get enough sleep. But those moments of rest sustained me. I would look forward to them and knowing I could grab them here and there gave me something to hold on to and helped me get by.

When Rest and Relaxation Is Difficult

Now imagine that you have Alzheimer’s. Your days and nights may give you ample opportunity for sleep. But the confusion in your mind, your new reality of uncertainty and memory loss make deep rest and relaxation difficult.

Then you hear a song you love. It triggers feelings and memories. The song ‘takes over’ for a short while. You don’t have to work at figuring out where you are or what you are doing. The song fills in the blanks.

The music lets you rest.

Can you imagine how wonderful that might feel? What a gift.

November Is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Month

I have seen first-hand the power of music to lift spirits, soothe, awaken memories and bring joy – for both people living with Alzheimer’s and for their care partners. I see the impact daily in my work, where I specialize in providing music experiences for people living with dementia.

Simply listening to music decreases cortisol, our ‘stress hormone,’ and increases dopamine, our ‘happiness hormone.’

For people with dementia, research is showing that music can literally reduce the use of pharmaceutical interventions – so fraught with side effects and yet commonly prescribed for agitation related to dementia.

If you care for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s, you know that days are made up of moments. I feel confident in saying that you are also familiar with a high level of fatigue and stress.

Just as my favorite songs gave me precious moments of rest that sustained me when I was super busy, I believe music can do the same for people living with dementia and for their care partners.

A few moments of rest by song may not seem like much. It’s not a cure for lack of sleep. And it certainly won’t cure Alzheimer’s. But sometimes all we get are moments. A stop light that turns red. An extra minute in the shower. Two minutes and fourty seconds of a song.

Moments of rest. We can claim them through music. For ourselves and for others.

How about giving it a try. Trust me – it’s a lot better than trying to sleep at a stop light.

Can you find a few favorite songs to claim some precious moments of rest? Can you find a few favorite songs to give a moment of rest to a loved one living with Alzheimer’s? Please share your favorite song and how it makes you feel.

Mary Sue WilkinsonMary Sue Wilkinson is the founder of Singing Heart to Heart. She is a musician, a speaker and the author of “Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care.” She is passionate about the power of music. Prior to her work with seniors, Mary Sue was a career early childhood educator and music teacher. Learn more at SingingHeartToHeart.com.

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