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Image of Tony Bennett by Peter Chiapperino, own work

What We Can Learn from Tony Bennett About Memory

Recently, the television series, 60 Minutes, had a wonderful and poignant segment featuring Tony Bennett who, at 95, has been living with Alzheimer’s disease for several years. While Tony couldn’t recall the fact that he had shared the stage in a recent concert with Lady Gaga, he could recall all the words to several of his old songs.

Here is the segment: 

The ability to recall all the words to an old song or poem and, yet, not recall recent life events is very typical of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding this and finding ways to celebrate those memories that live on is one of the ways so many family caregivers report finding moments of joy among the many care challenges they face.

If you are caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia, there are things you can begin doing now to bring more of these moments of joy to your loved one, yourself and your family. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t prod and push for memories. Let memories come naturally. While it’s tempting to prod someone with dementia to remember something recent it will, in most cases, lead not to a memory but to increased anxiety.
  • Engage in memory-sparking activities. Try engaging in activities that are more likely to spark a memory or two. Looking through an old photo album or listening to their favorite music are great ways to start. You might even ask them if they remember Tony Bennett. No doubt they’ll remember not only him, but remember their favorite Tony Bennett song.
  • Enjoy the moment. When your loved one does share a recollection, sit back and enjoy it. But try to avoid pushing them to go further. The more relaxed you are, the more enjoyable those moments will be for your loved one.
  • Educate family and friends. Explain to them the importance of allowing natural memories to flow, rather than quizzing your loved one. If you do this in advance of your next gathering, everyone will be better prepared and more relaxed.

In the 60 Minutes video that, when Tony Bennett started effortlessly singing all the words to “Watch What Happens”, his face came alive and his eyes sparkled. What a great moment to witness. And it’s the kind of moment that, with some patience and understanding, your family can possibly enjoy too.

(The top image photo was taken by Peter Chiapperino: a concert photographer in Lexington, Kentucky - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32088859)