I never expected my routines to change so much since becoming a music therapist. Every morning, I’m adamant about applying sunscreen and when I catch myself slumping, I immediately sit up straight. I’ve taken up journaling and go to concerts more often. All these adjustments are not a result of my finding centeredness when I began working. Instead, these come from a deep insecurity that’s increasingly apparent to me: I am probably going to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
This fact is no surprise given my family history. On one side of my family, there are at least two generations with clear diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and/or dementia. Although I experienced the progression of Alzheimer’s disease through my grandmother, I was never a direct caregiver to her. Today, my outlook has changed. Working in close contact with older adults with dementia and their families, my understanding of the day-to-day consequences of living with dementia is greatly evolved. This has led me to make the most of my time now.
I am in my twenties, a time that is often the last to be touched by disease. It’s both humbling and empowering to have insight into a possible future of mine. On the one hand, there are still decades for me to practice good health habits in an attempt to stave any genetic susceptibilities. There are days when I am optimistic and consistent and follow through on my good intentions to go to the gym. Other days, I am reminded of one of my grandmother’s mannerisms and am faced with the likely reality that I will one day follow suit.
Oftentimes during a session, a client shares about his or her past after a song has cued them to retrieve a memory. This is old news to music therapists. But, how could the connection between one’s life and music be enhanced? In my experience, my clients do not have the ability to share details of their lives in depth and I must rely on the secondhand information given to me by family members about a client’s musical preferences and experiences.
I intend to make it clear to my family members that I’d like to receive music therapy services should I develop dementia. As a music therapist, I’d like someday to make a timeline of my life and music. What kind of amazing sessions could unfold if a music therapist had access to a repertoire of songs connected the narrative of my life as told by me? How can I prepare for a future in which I am a care receiver instead of a care taker?
One woman, Alanna Shaikh, has spoken out about her prescience of developing Alzheimer’s disease and the steps she’s taking to prepare for it. Her insight helped me understand that ignoring my genes does not help my tomorrow. I now have more hope that I can be an agent of my future. If you’d like to hear her talk, “How I’m Preparing to Get Alzheimer’s” you can click HERE.
Knowing that I may develop Alzheimer’s disease is scary, but in some ways presents itself as a gift. Today, I have the time, information, and motivation to prevent dementia (hopefully). If not, I can create resources for my (in-the-far) future caregivers to improve their care of me. I will make the most of today because these may be the memories on which I most rely at the end of my life.