5 Tips for Using Music when Visiting People with Dementia

The holiday season often means visiting with family and friends. Picture this familiar holiday scene: Friends and family you haven't seen in awhile are stopping by. Large groups of people are gathered and lots of conversations are going on at once. Children are running around underfoot. Meal times and regular routines go out the window. Even for those of us not living with dementia, the normal holiday whirlwind can be stressful.  

For people living with dementia, the holidays can be truly overwhelming.  

Whether your loved one lives at home or in a care residence, it's likely that old friends and family members will want to visit. They may actually be nervous or hesitant to do so because they are not sure how they should act, or what they should say or do. Teepa Snow has written a valuable list of suggestions for making those visits happy and meaningful - for everyone.  

Here are my 5 tips for how to include music (the great equalizer) into your visits. 

1. When conversations are difficult, or even impossible, turn to music. Singing together and listening to music can bring happiness regardless of skill or memory. 

2. Bring music with you to your visit – either holiday music or music popular when they were young. Plan ahead and then share it by saying “I brought some music I thought we could enjoy together.” If the person you are visiting does not have a CD player in their room, bring one from home, borrow one from the activity director or consider purchasing one as a gift. (You can purchase or download my CD here.) 

3. Sing well known and simple songs together such as You Are My Sunshine, My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Or choose well known holiday songs. Often times it is the holiday songs that evoke the strongest response from people, bringing a powerful connection. Even singing one or two songs will lift spirits – for everyone. 

4. Involve your children or grandchildren in planning a musical visit. Give them the job of figuring out what was popular when your loved one was in their 20's and 30's and downloading that music to play during the visit. Let them use their smart phone to make a playlist. Do they have a wireless speaker they could bring along? 
If your loved one asks for a song you don't have ready, simply go to You Tube to find it.  

5. Add some energy and fun to your musical time together by patting and clapping to the beat or dancing together either standing or seated holding hands. 

They may not remember who you are, but they will remember how you made them feel.