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The power of musical memories

The other day I was chatting with Richard Hannemann at the grocery store.

Richard is the owner of a local music store, and he is also a guitar player who performs often at nursing homes.

At one of the places there was a woman who he just adored because she really got into his monthly performances.

Ruthie was in her nineties, and when she was younger she was a Vaudeville singer. So she knew all the words to the old show tunes that Richard was playing. And even when he played the songs that he wrote, she would quickly catch on and sing along.

She was more than just an enthusiastic audience member. It was like they had a connection.

He asked the activities director about her, and he was stunned at her response. She said that they were bringing him back month after month just so that he could sing with her.

Her Alzheimer's had progressed to the point where she didn't remember her family, and wasn't responding to anything else that was going on at the home. But she responded to Richard and his music. He was reaching her.

It makes sense that she could still remember music...

According to the Mayo Clinic, "Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer's disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease."

After Richard heard that these monthly gigs were about more than just playing some catchy tunes from the 30's and 40's, the activities director pointed to the court yard where Ruthie was sitting quietly alone.

He went out to see her and he could see the moment she recognized him when he approached her. "Are we going to be singing today?" she asked.

"Not today," he said. "Next week."

She passed away later that night. But he always will remember how special it was to play for her.

Do you have any performances that were special because of how you connected with someone? Share your story in the comments.

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