The Importance of Music for People with Dementia

From Bonnie:

The importance of music to people with Alzheimer’s is something I experience nearly every day. My mother sang while she did dishes and housework, sang solos in church, and loved sharing the hymnal with me during church services in my childhood and in the six years we lived together after my father passed at age 85. In her late 80s, while in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, she participated in a seniors “Kitchen Band,” singing Golden Oldies such as “School Days, School Days, Dear Old Golden Rule Days.” From 2003-2007, I drove her to the venues, including nursing homes and the assisted living center where she now lives since 2008. Visiting her, I would sing Jesus Loves the Little Children, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain When She Comes, If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands, and You are My Sunshine. Invariably, the other residents joined in and sang along, even those who didn’t usually speak or participate in activities.

Soon, I was leading a hymn-singing group after dinner several times a week, using hymn books at the facility to help me remember the words; I was amazed that most of the residents knew all the verses of every hymn by heart! This volunteer activity led to my being hired as an Activities Director for the Memory Care wing in 2010. Music became a part of our daily activities. One usually reserved lady in her mid-90s asked if we could start each morning singing, “This is the Day that the Lord Hath Made,” during our orientation session.* We did and everyone would get their day started on a positive note. The residents remembered my name, because of the song, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” We used the Sing Along with Barbara DVD (http://www.frontrowseatvideos.com/aboutbarbara.htm) several times a week to get everyone breathing deeply and working out their rusty voices before lunch. This DVD involves a daughter playing the piano at an assisted living center in California, with residents singing along. Our residents here in South Georgia would pick out people they “went to school with” or “knew from church” in the video, feeling like these were their friends, contributing to socializing and discussion of their memories.

Also, another DVD, called Music ‘N Motion with Nancy Pitkin (http://www.ssww.com/item/music-motion-sing-along-dvd-17714/) uses songs the residents know, and chair exercises to get them moving with or without scarves to Moon River, Sidewalks of New York, A Bicycle Built for Two, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and many other favorites. Each song brings back memories for the residents, who like to talk about what they were doing when they first heard it or who used to sing it to them. They also like to nudge each other and laugh during the exercises, in which both men and women enjoy participating.

One night last week, I was singing to my mother, who is now 96 and in the last stage of Alzheimer’s disease, with Hospice guiding her care. I was singing, “Harvest Moon,” since it is November and since she used to sing it to me as a child, with the full moon shining through my bedroom window. She hasn’t spoken in weeks, but she said, “January,” very clearly at the appropriate place in the song. Not only was I excited to hear her voice, but also, she was pleased that she could say something that made sense and created a connection between us in that moment in time.

Another good one to sing with Alzheimer’s residents is “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” naming everyone in the room during one of the verses. They are so pleased to hear their names and to relearn the names of their fellow residents and caregivers. “Amazing Grace” is a perennial favorite, as is “The Saints Go Marching In.” Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah is good, and Motown favorites are becoming popular as well. Step out of your comfort zone and try singing to your loved one or seniors that you visit. After they get past the surprise, see how quickly they join in! Make it a habit, and you’ll both find more enjoyment in your interactions.

For more info on music and Alzheimer’s residents, read: http://www.frontrowseatvideos.com/PDF/ReachingAlzheimer’s.pdf

*Orientation is a daily review of the day of the week, the date, the month, the weather, who has a birthday this month, what is for lunch and a short devotion.

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