December 8, 2015 9:01 am

Dementia doesn’t stop Erma Corey, 91, from remembering how to play the harmonica


MONCTON – At 91 years old, Erma Corey can still belt out a tune on her harmonica without skipping a beat.

She learned to play years ago as a child.

“It was something that my mother played and I took it from her and learned how to play it,” she said.

But Erma just can’t remember the name of a song she loves because she is experiencing the onset of  dementia. She’s is a bit of a jokester, so she’s chosen to take her memory loss in stride.

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“Oh I forget a lot of stuff.”

But it tugs at Anna-Marie Weir’s heartstrings, so she volunteers to play music at the Moncton special care home where Erma lives.

It’s that same home where Weir’s mother lived before she passed away from complications of dementia this past July.

“They have spent their lives taking care of their families and it’s my way of giving back and certainly to honour my mom’s spirit she would want me to continue to keep doing that,” she said.

She knows that research shows music can have a profound effect on seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“Sometimes they might have a hard time remembering how to talk and form sentences but when you start playing music everyone remembers the words to the song.”

Ken McGeorge from the Alzheimer’s Society of New Brunswick says music resides in a part of the brain that is not impacted by the disease.

He says exposure to music won’t slow the progression of the disease. But it can drastically improve sleep patterns, appetite and general well-being.

“Suddenly you see smiles on their faces, you see them sit up, you see their feet going you, see them clapping,” he said.

Which is exactly why Weir treasures every moment she plays alongside Erma.

“Erma and I, I am sure were rock stars in a previous life together and we just clicked when we met,” she said.

So to figure out the name of Erma’s favourite song, Weir posted a video of Erma playing the song online.

It took two long weeks but someone finally came up with the name of that song.

“Finally a lady from Hillsborough – Fran Steeves – her husband figured it out. It’s called ‘Wreck of the Number Nine’ and it was made famous by Hank Snow.”

Mystery solved once and for all.

To that Erma jokes: “You’ll have to mark it down cause I will forget it.”

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