Why Does My Mom Hum in Dementialand?

This morning I present to you the second in my series of an as-of-yet undetermined number of Q & As. Today’s question is to the point:

Why does my mom hum?

I’m not much of a musician. In fact, I lipsynced my way through middle school chorus because when I actually sang on the first day the director said, “Someone over there in the front sounds really off.” After deducing that someone was me, I became skilled at looking like I was singing when I actually was not. I was so skilled that the next year I won third place in a lipsync contest at a school fundraiser. If I remember correctly, I got a gift certificate to Pizza Hut.

When I was in high school, I joined in singing the national anthem at an event. Apparently I was so bad that someone thought I was mocking America and being disrespectful to the flag. Now I stand proudly with my hand across my heart–and my lips tightly shut. It’s my gift to America.

That being said, I love music. It’s just that I’m more of a connoisseur than a performer. The perfect song at the perfect time can change my day for the better. I’ve spent hours creating the ideal playlist for a party to give it the right “vibe.” And sometimes a song comes on my Pandora playlist that reminds me a of a moment twenty years ago that makes me smile. Music can be a powerful ally in changing your mood.

My work with those who have dementia has only reinforced my belief in the power of music. While the impact of music might seem like magic, it’s based in science. You see, rhythm comes from a part of the brain that isn’t generally affected by dementia until late in the disease process. When language is gone…when logical reasoning is gone…when motor control is gone…when memory is gone…song and prayer often remain present because they are based in rhythm. If you’re interested in seeing the impact of music on those with dementia, do yourself a favor and watch the documentary, Alive Inside.

Call it a miracle or a scientific fact. Either way, it’s a gift in the midst of what can be a cruel disease process. Dementia can be pretty stingy with presents. When you get one, accept it.

So why does your mom hum? Your mom hums because she may not be able to find the words to express herself. She may feel a frustrating inability to control the world around her. Yet her brain can still identify and express rhythm.

It’s what she’s got left.

We want to focus on what people who have dementia have left rather than what they have lost. If your mom’s got rhythm (which is common), use it. Make music a part of her everyday life. If you want her to walk, turn on a tune and make it feel like a dance. Rhythm might be your connection to her after other connections have failed. Use it.

If you’re unsure how to use music as a tool for those with dementia, check out this video by occupational therapist, Teepa Snow:


And while you’re at it, check out some of the other videos on the site.

P.S. I’ve written about music and dementia at length before. If you’re interested, check it out: 




4 thoughts on “Why Does My Mom Hum in Dementialand?

  1. Hello Dr. Eshbaugh,

    I receive your newsletter as a result of my granddaughter (who majored in Gerontology at UNI) sending me a copy some time ago. I love reading these posts.

    Just wanted to tell you a quick story about music and dementia. When my granddaughter was in high school she volunteered at a nearby elder care facility during the summers. One of the women living there was a retired music teacher. Mallory would play the piano for sing-alongs while she worked there, especially at Christmas holiday time. The elders loved those songs. The retired music teacher could not remember the names and faces of her visitors from day to day; could not remember where her room was; could not remember mealtimes…but she could sing every word of those Christmas tunes…and go on to second verses that no one else knew. Mallory would give her the microphone and she’d lead the group!

    I always say we never know what is locked in a seemingly closed mind, and we should never give up on trying to find the key to that mind. Communication comes in so many forms.

    Thank you for your newsletter.

    Karen Osborne, MSEd.

    New London, IA

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the way you describe your singing ability! Anyway, as I look back on what my father went through, I really appreciate all the trouble my sister went through to get him his music again. I’ll have to thank her. Thanks for opening my eyes.


Comments are closed.