It was mid-2019 in Valencia, Spain when Asociación Musica Para Despertar’s director Pepe Olmedo and his team went into the convalescent home. Pepe is the director of the therapy and advocacy association that translates to ‘Music To Wake Up To’, and that’s precisely what they have found happens to many if not most of those with memory loss, Alzheimer/Dementia, when they listened to music that they grooved to in earlier days.
For many, for a time, for a moment, it brings them back…back both to the present and to the time of their youth that they first heard the music.
“Dance/movement therapy operates on the premise that our life experiences are held in the body, and that through the use of movement, memories and emotions can be recalled and re-experienced despite cognitive, psychological, or physical impairment.”
They were visiting Marta C Gonzalez.
Marta, originally from Spain, formed a ballet troupe in Cuba in the early 1960’s and then ran a dance company in New York before becoming a ballerina for the New York Ballet later in the decade.
In 1967, she played Odetta, the lead in the classic Swan Lake.
She was now confined to a wheelchair, and deeply withdrawn, barely responsive.
Even when Pepe put the headphones on her.
He then turned on and played Tchaikovsky’s beautiful and iconic ‘Swan Theme’ from Swan Lake.
As she heard the first notes, one can recognize in her expression remembrance and sadness.
Reassuring encouragement to continue by a tender kiss from Pepe.
And then she remembers.
The light in her eyes when she raised her head.
The choreography, the training, the experience of fifty years prior….
… and then, once again, albeit momentarily…
… she was free.
Take a moment.
She heard, remembered, flinched.
Along with the music, it was loving standbys….affection and kindness and human touch…. that allowed her to fly.
In December of 2019, Marta visited the students and staff at Ballet Masters Alcoi, and the connection to the studio likewise brought back memories to the surface.
Weeks later, she passed away whilst she slept.
I like to think she is dancing right now…..free of any pain or discomfort.
This compassionate organization has been active for decades and has implemented in care homes throughout Spain therapy that combines these two vital components, which bring back vital memories….
….music and loving human touch.
As shown in this equally touching video…
Twenty plus years ago, when my grandma was suffering and withdrawn from Alzheimer’s, my deeply missed departed sister would visit her, and soon after she arrived, she always did three things…
She would put on Big Band music, break out a box of See’s chocolates and constantly touch and rub and hold Grandma.
And each and every time, it was as transformative.
Why it’s still, as a daily therapy, absent from most geriatric facilities here in the states is puzzling.
Said Katelyn Frey, who teaches in the Adult Development and Aging Program at the Univ of Akron, “Her dancing is an example of procedural memory, which are your memories for motor skills. These types of memories often remain intact in individuals with dementia. Musical memories can be procedural too, since music and dancing tend to go hand-in-hand, as does music and the motor skills necessary for playing an instrument. Music and music therapy are invaluable for individuals with dementia.”
As is human touch.
But researching this, and remembering …. i hope that when the virus is finally controllable and the care facilities will be open to all to visit…. i will follow through with my present desire to make the rounds with music and headphones and an eagerness to touch.
I started taking online courses with Asociación Musica Para Despertar, where you can learn about their amazing work, watch more videos, take classes, and if so inclined, donate to their cause.
A truly wonderful endeavour.