Dementia and Wellness Through Sound and Stillness

Over the years, I have witnessed many miracles in my work as a therapeutic musician and sound healer. I do this work with Gero- Psychiatric and cancer patients, in major hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. I have repeatedly seen the resiliency of those with dementia, and their capacity for returning to fuller consciousness through sound and stillness.

I play a variety of instruments in my work: Native American Flute, Guitar, Bowed Psaltery, Tibetan Singing Bowls, tingshas (chimes) and tuning forks. I play them with the underlying goal of creating a field of peace that infuses and surrounds those I work with, helping them to enter into their own stillness. In this quiet, secure and loving space, those with dementia return.

Just recently, I worked with a group of ladies with early stage Alzheimer’s .All through the session one woman sat impassive, while others awakened to the sounds of the cedar flute, bowed psaltery and the gentle tones of the Tibetan tingsha. Toward the end of the session, I introduced the Tibetan singing bowl and asked if anyone would like to hold the bowl as I played. This particular woman, still sitting expressionless, nodded tentatively, yes. I placed the bowl in her hand and I began to play. Her frozen face softened as I played, and then broke into a great, glowing smile! From then on, she was present, vocal and fully engaged with the group. The quieting and loving sounds of the cedar flute and Tibetan tingsha opened her to receive the sound and stillness of the Tibetan bowl, that brought her home to herself.

The sound of the Tibetan Singing Bowl is a single, multifaceted, sound, much like a mantra in meditation. The sound leads us or awakens us to our own stillness, and in this stillness comes the flash of self-recognition. In the quiet we begin to hear ourselves,our inner voice speaking amid the din around us. We are then able to return to ourselves, either gradually or in an instant, as in our example.

People get separated from their consciousness for a variety of reasons. One cause seems to be over stimulus. The noted author and speaker, Wayne Muller, has suggested that this society is tuned to the speed of the mind, whereas previous generations were attuned to the tempo of the heart. We are wired into the sound of the machine – the hum of the refrigerator, lawn mower, lights and, of course, our automobiles. Just a hundred years ago, these sounds were not present. Life was quieter and we could more easily attune to the sound and stillness of nature, and her wondrous, soothing cadences. Life was simpler too, with less to propel our lives forward and fill our hearts and minds. Today we are literally assaulted by stimulus from TV, magazines,movies, computers and the pace that we maintain in our lives. This pace takes its toll on our bodies, minds and spirits. Based upon my experience, it is my belief that dementia is a survival mechanism that we humans are using to escape from the over stimulus that pervades our society, and the sped-up velocity of our lives. The more I do this work and see the effectiveness of stillness in helping others, the more I am convinced of this belief. Stillness is an antidote, as it were, to over stimulus. In the secure environment of stillness, fear is transcended,over-activity in mind and body ceases, and we relax into sweet recognition with a wink and a smile.

This wondrous potential to return exists within us all. Our precious souls with dementia can return with the quiet we provide, and come home, through the still portal.