Music is an extraordinarily powerful dementia care tool; and there are many ways to use it.
Here are 10 “do’s and don’ts” to help you bring music alive for people who live with dementia:
1) Change the channels
Remember music can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. It could be “piped in” to an entire facility, like it is in many public places such as grocery stores, or restaurants. It could be played through TV, radio, headphones, or delivered live in group sessions or one-on-one. Choose the channel that’s most appropriate for the person, the environment, and the situation.
2) Pick and choose
We all have genres of music that we enjoy from classical to country, from opera to hip-hop. Music is individual as well as universal. Find out what kind of music your client, resident, or loved one living with dementia most enjoys and play it for them.
3) Get in the groove
Use music to create the kind of mood that’s appropriate for the time of day, the moment, and the activity. Select something light and upbeat to get people “up and at ‘em” in the morning, and something soothing and quiet before bedtime. Be aware that the volume is also important – music that’s too loud may create more anxiety rather than it reduces.
4) Learn golden oldies
My musical repertoire has expanded exponentially since I became a care partner. I’ve learned tunes I never knew existed and am now able to sing along to Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and many more. Knowing the music your care partner loves is a powerful way to connect.
5) Go beyond the obvious
Music can do much more than calm, comfort and create a better care environment. You can also use it to help take the challenge out of challenging situations and/or encourage people to follow instructions. Here’s an example from music therapist Rachelle Norman of Soundscaping Source:
6) Touch and feel
Listening to beloved music elicits emotions. Hearing a song that was played at a wedding or a funeral might cause us to feel happy or sad. Certain music is associated with different times and events in our lives. Even when the memory of those times and events is gone, the emotion remains. People who live with dementia have feelings just like the rest of us. Remember you will be touching hearts with your choice of music, so it’s important to choose wisely.
7) Don’t be shy!
The only time I ever sang before I became a care partner was in the shower or the car where no one could hear me. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket! But I’ve learned to overcome my shyness for the sake of the pleasure and calming effect that singing together has on my care partner who lives with dementia. In the process, I think my voice may have even improved 🙂
8) Don’t limit possibilities
There’s been a lot of publicity around the movie Alive Inside, and the power of using iPods to deliver music to people with dementia. There is no doubt that a personal playlist, an MP3 player, and a set of headphones can bring hours of joy to someone who lives with dementia. But technology isn’t the be all and end all. Singing doesn’t require an iPod. You don’t need a musical instrument to make music. Use your voice. Clap your hands. Stamp your feet. Create a rhythm. Use a rhyme.
9) Don’t be fooled by silence
Just because a person is no longer verbal, doesn’t mean they cannot still enjoy music. In fact music may be one of the most powerful ways of communicating with someone who has completely lost their language skills. I’ve seen people living with dementia in nursing homes slumped in wheelchairs and apparently asleep begin tapping their feet to the rhythm of favourite songs during group sing-alongs.
10) End on a positive note
They say the sense of hearing is the last to go. Music can be a wonderful way to bring comfort and solace to people during the last weeks, days, and hours of their lives. It can help life end on a positive note despite pain, grief and loss.