Voices in Motion chorister and teen author, Priscila Kumar, shares the story behind her first children’s book, I Remember.
WATCH CHEK NEWS: VITAL PEOPLE
as Priscilia Kumar is interviewed about her book, “I Remember.”
Read what others are saying about “I REMEMBER”.
“It is no surprise that music and memories share a common link. Both are interwoven with emotions, ones that often last long after the actual song or experience is gone. Memories help define us to ourselves and others. If these memories disappear, one can feel lost and alone. However, the joy of singing can help us reclaim this sense of self, as the character Margaret discovers in this beautifully written and illustrated book by Priscila Kumar. The story gently shares her sense of despair from not remembering the past but, how through singing, her memories return with a heightened sense of joy and belonging. A must read!”
Maria Howard, CEO Alzheimer’s Society of BC
“This heartwarming story and charmingly illustrated book opens up dialogue about the isolation and stigma of dementia while offering an example of how we can change things for the better. The story captures the power of music and how it can bring back memories that had seemingly vanished. The experience Margaret has of remembering is one that I have seen in many of our Voices in Motion choir members as they share stories about the songs they are learning and about their lives. They rediscover who they are when the focus is not on the losses that come with dementia but rather on the strengths that remain– that allow them to laugh, sing, and develop friendships with one another in a safe and caring community choir.”
Dr. Debra Sheets, Founder of Voices in Motion and lead researcher from the University of Victoria
“Priscilla has captured the essence of what Voices in Motion Choir is all about. Dementia robs people of their long- and short-term memories. Family members watch helplessly as the person they love fades away. Priscilla has so simply, yet so profoundly, focused on the power of music and singing in a choir to the restoration of memories long forgotten. For a short time, people forgot what they do not remember and focus on what they do. The personal connections made become a new family where there is no judgement where joy and happiness fill the air. Priscilla Kumar is to be commended for such a wonderful book that so clearly outlines the power of what choral singing can do for those dealing with dementia.”
Sue Goldsack, High School Teacher
Ten Conversation Starters About Dementia
The section, Ten Conversation Starters About Dementia, is found at the back of I Remember. The questions are specifically geared toward engaging young readers in a discussion about dementia and memory loss. For answers to these questions, please see below:
Question #1: What is dementia?
Dementia can make people forget things. Even important things like their name, where they put their car keys, today’s date or even where is home.
There are different types of dementia but all of them include memory loss. That’s really hard for people who can’t remember like they used to. It’s also hard for their family members and friends.
Maybe someone asked you a question once and you had to answer, “I can’t remember.” Or someone you know forgot something important and it frustrated you. You might have even said to yourself, “Why can’t they remember?
Think about how hard that would be if you couldn’t remember most things from the past or weren’t able to answer someone’s question when they asked you.
That’s how it often is for people with dementia.
We don’t know why some people get dementia and others don’t, but there are a lot of people who struggle with memory loss and we need to be sensitive, patient and kind towards them.
There’s no cure for dementia right now, but it’s not something you catch from someone else. It happens more often as people get older. But it doesn’t happen to everyone.
Researchers are trying to figure out why people get dementia and what people with dementia can do to continue to live a happy and joyful life even though things are changing for them.
We have found out that singing together in a choir really helps people with dementia as well as their family members.
Question #2: Why do you think that Margaret could no longer remember the past?
Dementia is a disease. It’s not the person’s fault that they can’t remember.
There are different parts of the brain and each part has a different function. The part of the brain that has the job of sorting through and storing all of our memories is called the Hippocampus. It has a big job.
What did you do on your summer holidays last year?
Do you remember your uncle’s name?
What was the best birthday party you ever had?
You can probably remember all of those or at least parts of those experiences.
Because, your brain tells you to remember. It wants to remember important things and events that make us happy or angry or excited or sad.
Margaret cannot remember people, events and things of the past because her disease is not getting any better.
In fact, the longer she lives, the less she is going to be able to remember, especially anything new that’s happening in her day.
She might even repeat herself over and over again and ask about things that you have just talked about because the part of her brain that remembers, can’t remember any longer.
So we need to be patient and caring.
Question #3: Why do you think it was important for Margaret to get out of her home and come to choir?
The part of the brain that is damaged in Margaret won’t get better. But just because Margaret has a hard time remembering does not mean that she can’t feel emotions like happiness, joy or love.
It’s important that we spend time with people like Margaret, so that they know that we care about them. Doing something together is really good for people like Margaret and also their family members, like Rose.
What we have learned is that it’s really hard on people with dementia to spend a whole bunch of time alone. In fact, people live longer if they spend time with others because they are happier and healthier.
Would you want to have a birthday party by yourself? That would not be too much fun, would it?
It’s also important for Rose too. It’s not easy when your mom can’t remember things in the past. Especially if some of the things are about you. That would be hard if your mom couldn’t remember special things that you did together or that your mom was saying or doing things that surprised you.
But Margaret is still Rose’s mom and Rose is still Margaret’s daughter. And that will never change.
Their love for each other is the most important thing.
Question #4: I wonder why people who were singing together seemed joyful.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have not been invited to be part of something that your other friends were invited too? I wonder if that made you sad.
When you are invited to be part of a group and you feel like you belong, you feel accepted and happy. Everyone around you feels happy too. You’re all together.
When you sing together, something really special happens. Music and especially singing together is a super stimulus.
What does that mean?
Do you like hot sauce? When you add hot sauce to something you eat, you can really taste the difference pretty quickly. You say, “Wow! That had some kick!”
When you sing together, it kick-starts something in your brain. Then your brain gets excited and fireworks go off. Singing with other people in a choir is like a full-body workout, but for your brain.
We have these things called neurochemicals. They get all excited when we do certain things. One of them is singing.
When people have memory loss, it’s hard on them. They might get frustrated or angry or upset. And sometimes family members get frustrated as well.
When you sing together, something changes. We change! We are less anxious.
Even the way we breath changes because we sing and the way we breathe helps us become stronger to fight off other bad diseases that are hanging around.
We are happy when we feel good and have lots of friends that love us.
And singing for Margaret was the beginning of being with people like her and who love her.
Question #5: How did you feel when Rose said, “I want the old Margaret back?”
As we get older, we change. Maybe your parent has said to you, “You’ve changed a lot since you were young.”
When a person has dementia, they begin to change but it’s hard for family members.
Sometimes dementia makes people act differently than how we once knew them, and we even wonder if it’s the same person.
It is. But maybe they respond differently than they used to, and it doesn’t feel like them anymore. It’s important for people to know that.
That’s the part that’s hard on family and friends. They would like the person to be the same as they once were, but it’s not possible.
Family members need to talk and share what they are going through as their family member changes.
When we listen to people who have dementia and they are able to tell us who they are, how they are feeling, it really helps a lot.
Would you be scared to talk with someone with dementia? You shouldn’t be, because they are just like you and me.
They just can remember the way that we do. But they are still very special people.
Question #6: Why do you think Margaret began to cry when she heard that song?
People with dementia may cry more often. That’s fair isn’t it?
People with dementia get frustrated when they can’t do some of the things they did before or remember certain things that were once part of their lives.
There is a part of the brain that gets overloaded when they can’t remember. Then the other part of the brain says, “I don’t like this at all!” One part helps us remember – that’s the hippocampus where are memories are stored. The other part lets us know how we feel – that’s called the amygdala. So when people with dementia do remember a special memory, they can get overwhelmed with emotion.
Margaret was crying because she was remembering something that she hadn’t remembered for a long time that was really special to her.
Maybe you’ve had the experience where you have not seen someone you love for a long time.
You miss them so much. It’s almost like you have not seen them for such a long time that you forget how they look. Then the day arrives when you meet them again.
What do you do? You run to them and hug them. You are so happy.
When an emotion comes to the person who has dementia, it’s like that. They can be so happy or so sad at the same time.
Margaret was so happy to because she remembered. I guess you’d call it “tears of happiness”.
Question #7: Have you ever heard (or sung) a song that took you back to an event or experience from your past?
The older we get, the more experiences and stories we have stored in our memory. Often music is tied to an emotion that reminds us of certain people.
We like a song because our brain associates it with someone or something special. We have a whole bunch of memories, like a stack of cards. But certain memories are more important to us than others because they make us feel strong emotions.
Music can remind us of a memory, especially if the music has a strong feeling attached to it. We might be surprised when a song brings up deep emotions. But if we take time to think about who was with us when we sang or heard that song and what we were doing together, then we might realize why the song is so special to us.
Who did Margaret remember again when she heard and sang that special song?
Did you notice that she remembered a special event and some of the details that had made it special for her?
How did it make you feel when she was able to remember something so important to her?
Can you think of a favourite song right now? Who was with you when you sang or heard it?
Question #8: Why do you think Margaret was happy at the end of the story?
There are so many amazing things that happen when we sing together.
It was important that Rose and her mother sang together in the choir.
How do you think Rose felt when she saw how happy it made her mother feel when she sang?
Because the part of the brain that feels emotion is still strong in Margaret, she also feels Rose’s happiness too. They were sharing a wonderful memory together.
Remember when Rose was worried about her mom and wanted her to come and sing in the choir? Both of them were feeling stress. When things change in our lives that are difficult, our bodies respond too. Our bodies say, “I don’t like how I’m feeling.”
When we feel stress, the people around us can also feel stress. Having a safe, loving and accepting environment made Margaret feel safe, loved and accepted.
We know that when we sing, there are things that happen in our brain that makes us feel happy too. It’s like a happy hormone party!
We also know that spending time with others (and not too much time by ourselves) is really important. Do you remember when Rose was worried about her mom spending so much time alone? Research tells us that we live longer when we spend time with other people. It’s not healthy for us to be alone – even if we enjoy alone time or are quiet people.
Both Margaret and Rose were happy by the end of the story and that’s a good thing.
Question #9: I wonder why high school students came to a choir to sing with people who had dementia?
One of the hardest things for people with dementia and their family members is that they often feel alone because people around them are frightened or uncertain of the one who has dementia. They feel like they won’t know what to say or how to have a conversation.
Sometimes, friends spend less time with these people because they don’t understand what dementia is or they’ve heard something from someone else about dementia that might not be true. This can make the person with dementia feel really sad and feel bad about themselves.
Have you ever meant someone with dementia?
Have you ever spoken to them or their family member?
If we don’t know something about a person and we wonder why they might be different from us, then we need to spend time with this person to get to know them.
This choir is filled with people of all ages. Why? So they can get to know people that they wouldn’t normally hang out with and be surprised by what every person has to offer. We are all different, but we are all the same in many ways too.
The students love the seniors and the seniors in this choir love the students. They learn from each other to be together and enjoy what’s special about each other.
Question #10: Do you think people with dementia can learn and participate in new things even though they have difficultly remembering things of the past?
Sometimes people with dementia can learn new things and sometimes they can’t.
What we do know is that an activity like singing can increase our cognitive reserve.
What does that mean? Certain parts of the brain have certain functions. They have different jobs to do that help us.
When we sing, research shows that certain parts of the brain can help our other parts of the brain and “come to the rescue” of the more damaged part.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have needed someone’s help? You couldn’t do something by yourself, so you asked someone to help you to get the job done.
Singing with other people seems to give damaged parts of the brain a helping hand, by getting other parts of the brain involved.
We may be able to remember things that we had not remembered before.
Do you recall what happened when Margaret began to sing? She remembered something pretty special that she had not remembered for a while. It was beautiful and made her happy.