Friday, June 4

a musical ear

Life has been peaceful with my mom lately. She is
content to spend much time reading and watching the birds
from the screened porch. She is sleeping fairly well (not too
many trips downstairs in the night for me, to help her back to
bed) and watching just enough old musicals to keep her happy
and not so many that we feel as tho' we might go around
the bend! The music she hears is in her beloved movies,
on the kitchen radio, on the ipod radio my brother filled
with her favorite music or in the car when we drive to
and from town.

But it wasn't always so. She had only been at
the assisted-living place for a few months when she
started asking me to check under the bed and in the closet
for the radio she kept hearing. For awhile I thought she must
be hearing music from the new neighbor next door (tho' I
should have known better since it was always so quiet in that
place!). My mom was getting quite distracted with the persistence
and repetition of these songs..."Old Man River", "Edelweiss",
"God Bless America", many more. With some careful
questioning, one evening I determined that she was hearing the
music in her head. Back at home that night, I spent hours
researching her symptoms and desperately hoping it wasn't
some sort of psychosis. What I discovered was that my
mother had developed Musical Ear Syndrome.

She had all of the conditions that are often present when
it occurs:

1. Often the person is elderly.

2. Generally, the person is hard of hearing.

3. Often the person lacks adequate auditory stimulation.

4. Almost always the person has tinnitus.

5. Often the person is either anxious, stressed or


-from Hearing Loss Help

I didn't think we could do much about numbers 1,2 or 4 (tho' we had
already addressed the hearing loss with some very fine hearing aids).
We hoped that setting up an ipod radio in my mom's room, filled
with her favorite familiar music, would help the "too quiet
environment", but she never remembered to turn it on. And
everywhere outside her room remained so quiet and insulated, there
wasn't much hope for change there. And soon enough we realized
that her low level of anxiety wouldn't change as long as she was in
an institution (however lovely), and as much as she had tried
to make a go of it.

It is one of the many reasons we brought her home.
As soon as my mom arrived, I made sure she had a peaceful
but sound-rich environment. Just the everyday sounds of our
family talking with one another, calling the animals, opening
and closing doors, going up and down the creaky stairs, the
birds singing, the kettle whistling, went a long way to filling
her ears in a good way. When it felt "too quiet", I would turn
on the kitchen radio the classical music or jazz that comes
from our local NPR station....

And after awhile we realized that my mother was no
longer complaining about the songs playing over and over
again, nor was she waking up in night because of it. For the most
part, except for occasional complaints at night about the noise
in her ears (which I think might be the tinnitus), it seems to
have disappeared. I know that it may return, but what a relief
to have something so troubling to her be so easy (relatively)
to solve.

Now music is only a positive in her life.
Tho' I notice that it is a little trickier for her to find the
harmonies she has always been wonderful at adding to our
singing together (something we don't do as often as we could),
she sings along to all her old music (thank goodness I love it,
too!), and enjoys occasional concerts. Neatest of all, she remains
open to all kinds of music, especially since I have started to make
a point of not always listening to news or interviews ("talk, talk,
talk" as my mom says) during our hour-long drives into town.
Tho' she was a little critical of some songs when we first
started listening, she is much more open-minded after many
drives watching me tap my hand against the steering wheel and sing
along as my favorite station played all sorts of oldish songs...."Lay
Down Sally" (she made a face when this first came on, was singing
along after a few verses and declared at the end that she thought
it was a wonderful song), "Low Rider "(can you imagine?), old Elvis
Costello. Best of all was a warm afternoon when I had picked her up
after respite care, and I had the top of her VW convertible down and
Simple Minds "Alive and Kicking" blasting (that song has to be loud!)
on the radio as we drove the pleasant streets of Williamsburg...
smiling at each other, hands keeping the beat.

P.S. Thank you Mary Anne and Gigi for the UTI information.
This time it wasn't that for my mom, but I will always be on the watch
for it.

P.P.S. These photos were taken early this Spring on Easter Sunday


Anonymous said...

Music is one of the deepest seated things in our minds
and one of the highest elevations to which the brain
and spirit can rise. You remind me to have more of it
in my life. (I thank you for your condolences and will
be following up with a letter soon.)


maryanne said...

How wonderful ,Lesley ,that you were able to do that research and to meet your mother's needs so caringly.

Virginia Mallon-Ackermann said...

I heard a radio program once about how hearing repetitive music in your head could be a sign of a stroke. I always have something rattling around in my head and sometimes worry that it is a sign of something worse than a song stuck on replay (like the "give me back the filet'o'fish...give me that fish").

The absence of normal human and life sounds at a nursing homes and institutional living can wear even on the most stoic. My father-in-law spent the last year of his life bedridden in a nursing home and even a breeze from the open window and the sounds of the street brought him joy. I am so glad that your mom is better listening to the life around her now.

Kim Brown said...

Lesley and Lo
Lesley and Lo
You are my pals
I love you so!

It was great to read this heartfelt and insightful post from you Lesley. And your dear mum. I can just hear the two of you singing Christmas carols together.

Whatever happens, the life you've given her and the life she's given you are rare and beautiful. Thank you for sharing this. I can just see the two of you driving and singing together in the bug.

Love you both so much.