A tear-jerking video shows the decline of a dementia-suffering grandmother who was robbed of her memory but never forgot the words to her favorite song.
Mary-Lou Versteegh, from London in Ontario, often sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to her granddaughter Nicole Coenen, 24, until, in 2009, the former orchard owner was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved to a nursing home.
Despite forgetting the names and faces of her loved ones, Ms Versteegh, who lived in the Netherlands during World War II, sat with her granddaughter every time she visited and together they sang the famous tune, which has been covered by the likes of Ray Charles, Doris Day and Johnny Cash.
Videos of Ms Versteegh, who died aged 81 in October last year, were recorded by Ms Coenen, who sang with her grandmother around once a week for six years.
Ms Coenen said: ‘She would forget who I was but she always remembered the words of that song.
‘It was a way of bringing her back because she would always brighten up. She was a ray of sunshine.’
Alzheimer’s affects around 5.5 million people in the US, including one in 10 over 65.
A tear-jerking video shows the decline of dementia-suffering grandmother Mary-Lou Versteegh (pictured left) who was gradually being robbed of her memory but never forgot the words to her favorite song (pictured with her granddaughter Nicole Coenen, 24)
Ms Versteegh often sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to her granddaughter until, in 2009, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and moved to a nursing home (pictured with Ms Coenen as a child)
She sat with her granddaughter every time she visited and together they sang the famous tune
‘It was a way of bringing her back’
Ms Coenen, who was studying film at the time, said: ‘Before she was diagnosed my grandmother was basically the glue that held our family together. She was a ray of sunshine.
‘We started noticing little things were wrong around 2009, when she started to grow tired a lot and forgetting things.
‘We just thought, “Oh, she’s getting old”, but it got worse.
‘It was really scary for her and for everyone else. She had watched her parents and best friend die of Alzheimer’s and it was her biggest fear in life.’
Despite her condition deteriorating, singing seemed to bring Ms Versteegh back.
Ms Coenen, who used the videos as part of a school project and got an A, said: ‘She would always sing “You Are My Sunshine” when I was little. It really resembles her in a lot of ways because she was a joyous person and it was kind of our special song.
‘Whenever I would go and visit her in the nursing home I would sing it to her. It was my mom’s idea to document it.
‘She would forget who I was but she always remembered the words of that song, and then she might start to remember other things, it would trigger her memory.
‘It was a way of bringing her back because she would always brighten up. I had no idea it would do that.’
Ms Versteegh died aged 81 in October last year (pictured with her daughter Patty)
Ms Versteegh, who lived in the Netherlands during World War II, sang with her granddaughter every time she visited, which was around once a week for six years
Singing made her ‘brighten up’ (pictured with her granddaughter Mary-Lou Versteegh)
Described as the family’s ‘glue’ and ‘ray of sunshine’, her symptoms first appeared in 2009
They were initially dismissed as nothing serious until they got worse (pictured with Patty)
Her granddaughter described her as a ‘joyous person’ (pictured with Patty)
Ms Coenen said singing would trigger other memories for Ms Versteegh (pictured with Patty)
She added singing would ‘brighten up’ her grandmother (pictured with Mary-Lo)
‘She left a huge footprint in all of our hearts’
Patty Coenen, 51, one of Ms Versteegh’s four children, said seeing her mother and daughter singing together was a ‘priceless gift’.
She added: ‘My mom loved to sing to her grandchildren. She was always a happy person that made others feel better after they sat with her.
‘The video still gives me chills and warms my heart when I hear them both singing. It brings back beautiful memories.
‘My mom might have lost her memory, might not have known who we all were anymore and she might not have been able to eat or drink or walk as she did before.
‘My mom might not have been the person that we all remember her as, but she was an enormous role model for all of us and she taught us how even in the darkness that she was going through, she never gave up.
‘She left a huge footprint in all of our hearts. Every time I hear the song “You are my sunshine”, I smile a huge smile.’
Patty said seeing her mother (both pictured) and daughter singing was a ‘priceless gift’
She added hearing the song ‘brings back beautiful memories’ and ‘melts my heart’
Patty (pictured with her mother before she became ill) says she was a role model
Ms Versteegh loved singing with her grandchilren before she became unwell