Can Music Make Your Aging Parents Less Cranky? You Won't Know Until You Try!

Am I a bad daughter?  

My friend Melissa asks this question often.  

Frankly, her mom is…well…difficult. And Melissa is often left wondering if she could “do better” so her mom wouldn’t be so…let’s just say, challenging.  

Do you ever wonder if you are a bad daughter to your aging parent? 

Maybe you live far away. 

Maybe you live close by.  

Regardless, most of us struggle with some self doubt about whether we are doing “enough” or the “right things” for our aging parents. We just want them to be happy, right?  

Sometimes our guilt centers around visits.  

“Do I visit often enough?” 

“Do I stay long enough or too long?” 

“Are my visits pleasant?  

Then it moves on into, “Are my parents happy?”  

Or in Melissa’s case, “Why is my mom so grumpy?” 

Will we ever really know?  

Most of us can only speculate on the answers to these questions. Even if we come right out and ask, we may or may not get the real scoop.  

My dad and step mom are well versed in sugar coating. There was one time my dad was in the hospital for three days before they picked up the phone to call and tell me! “Well, we were busy. And I’m fine now.” They mean well, but seriously?  

Can you relate? 

So back to Melissa.  

Melissa is my friend and she also does some work for my business Singing Heart to Heart. With Singing Heart to Heart I bring music back into the lives of older adults and I specialize in using music in dementia care. I do a lot of speaking and training on this topic, based on my book “Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care.” 

One day Melissa asked me “Do you think music could help my mom be less cranky?”  

You can probably guess what I answered. “Of course!” 

Thanksgiving was coming up and her mom always spent the day with Melissa’s family. As hard as they tried, Melissa’s mom usually found something to be critical of. Sigh… 

So this year, Melissa decided to bring some music into the equation. She had read my book, so she knew something about how to choose the right music. And she used my Finding Memories Through Music Family Interview to help her personalize her selections even more. 

Melissa chose some music she thought her mom would like and assigned her teenage children the job of setting up a playlist on Spotify or YouTube.  

When mom arrived for turkey day, Melissa had some “happy” music playing.  

“Oh, that’s nice” remarked her mother. To be honest, it kind of “cut her off at the pass” before she started picking at things.  

At Christmas time Melissa’s daughter showed her grandma how to find the Christmas music channel on her TV so she could listen to music easily at her apartment. She even gave her grandma a little pep talk about how she needed to find her own Christmas spirit and that the music could help.  

Melissa’s mom needed some encouragement. Just suggesting that her mom “should listen to some music” wasn’t enough. Melissa had to take action. And to be clear, music hasn’t changed her mom’s personality. She will always be that “glass half empty” person.  

But used strategically it has given them some happy moments together.  

I grew up in a musical household. I know all the old songs because my mom was always playing them and we did a lot of singing together. My dad was a great dancer. Still is. My mom died a long time ago and my step mom also loves music. In fact, one of her most prized possessions is her piano.  

When I visit them I am always surprised at how quiet it is.  

One night when I was visiting them in Florida, Lawrence Welk came on. They were sitting in their respective recliners with their feet up. And despite their repose – their feet were tapping away to the music. I couldn’t help but point it out. I mean, they know what I do for a living after all.  

“Look how this music is making you happy.”  

When it was time for happy hour (a family tradition) and making dinner, I dragged out their dusty CD player and popped in the Louis Armstrong CD I had brought with me from Michigan. I knew it had one of my dad’s favorite songs on it – “Hey Look Me Over.”  We followed that with a CD I made called Songs You Know By Heart. It made happy hour even happier and they both commented on it.  

My dad and step mom aren’t grumpy. They simply forget to put music on. So I nudge them along. Every now and then I send them a new CD and whenever I visit I make sure to get the CD player out. 

Is there a way that you could bring music back into the life of your parents?  

It won’t make you a perfect daughter with no guilt. But it might be just the thing to brighten everyone’s day and improve your visits. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference.  


This blog article first appeared on the website 60 and Me. I encourage you to take a look at all of their amazing articles and great content.