In last week’s post, I introduced you to Tara Jenkins, co-author of the book, Music, Memory, and Meaning and how music can help in caregiving tasks. This week Tara gives us more tips on how to use her book in your life as a caregiver.
Let me assure you, the authors of Music, Memory, and Meaning are not expecting you to sing or create the music on your own, something I am REALLY not qualified to do. Rather, it outlines how you can start to select music that might appeal to your elder, like music from their late teens to early twenties. It talks about the environment for ideally listening, how to gauge by reactions if your person is engaged and how to encourage body movement.
Then the rubber hits the road, because the next chapter is lists of curated songs by decade, genre and general topics like, Broadway Musicals. The final chapter gives you tips on how to have engaged listening discussions. Each song included in the final chapter tells you the history of the song, gives you additional information and suggestions for engaged listening and meaningful discussion. For example, with the song Singin’ In The Rain, you learn a bit about the inspiration for the song and the film. For engagement, they suggest you try to tap toes or heels. Or, you may want to look up the video of Gene Kelly’s performance. Then there are discussion points like, “The singer seems happy even in the rain. What are some things that can make you feel happy even on rainy days?” It is awesome.
But you don’t have to be tied to the book. When you know something about the person’s early life, if church was a big part of their life, you can create a playlist for hymns or include a song their mother sang to them. You can experiment by using a different artist to cover an old standard. Willy Nelson covered a lot of songs, Michael Bubble and Lady Gaga do as well. Themes are another way to create a playlist. If they love water, think about songs like ‘Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay’.
Since curating your own list takes time and requires being a bit of a detective, this is a great opportunity to ask for help. You can have someone in the family who may not be good with one-on-one engagement take on this task. They can google a music genre, search for big band music of the 1940’s or even by band leader, like Glenn Miller. Spotify has playlists and you can often find the lyrics to a song if you want to sing along. But be careful of the lyrics becoming a distraction. Before using lyrics, observe and listen to nonverbal communication and don’t be surprised if in that moment the words come out. It is especially cool if you can find a younger person to curate the music and then spend time listening and engaging with their grandmother or grandfather. It’s a great intergenerational bonding experience.
Keep in mind, when we connect music to memory for a person, they can’t always share the memory or story, which is why we need to always be aware of body language and nonverbal cues. Don’t be upset if a song brings tears. Tears can express the emotion they are feeling, like happiness, because this is the song they danced to at their wedding. You can hand them a tissue or hold their hand; you don’t need to verbally process what they are feeling. Just being in the moment with them is enough. If tears are consistent, you may want to reach out to a professional. Tara does virtual consultations all across the country.
Like all interactions with someone with a memory impairment, you always want to be watching body language and nonverbal cues. If they are getting upset or walking away, don’t force it. One day they may want to listen for 20 minutes, the next day they may cross their arms and cover their ears. It depends on the moment that day. You can redirect to another activity if they are not feeling it. Just know this is not a reflection of you, you did nothing wrong. What you are doing right is letting them lead the experience.
If you are looking for ways to connect with someone living with a memory impairment, or even if they are not, then music is a proven way and the book Music, Memory, and Meaning is a great place to start. Music, it has superpowers!
Tara Jenkins, MT-BC, CDP, CMDPC is a board-certified music therapist, certified dementia practitioner, and the founder of Harmony in Dementia. She has been working in the eldercare field for the last 16 years, and she specializes in providing music wellness workshops, music consultation, and music therapy services for older adults, care partners, and eldercare professionals. Tara has extensive training and knowledge on caring for those living with dementia and/or cognitive decline, works closely with care partners on how to share music and create meaningful experiences with their loved ones, and frequently presents on the topic of music therapy and older adults. She is also the co-author of “Music, Memory, and Meaning: How to Effectively Use Music to Connect with Aging Loved Ones.”
@HarmonyInDementia (Instagram, FaceBook, YouTube, and Linked In)
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract and “A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.” Your Caregiver Relationship Contract is available in both English and Spanish. It explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems during caregiving. A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers explains how important it is to learn how your person wants to live their live out and how you, the caregiver is the most important person in this relationship, giving you tips and tricks for this journey.
Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract or here for the Spanish version: Su Contrato de relación como cuidador de un ser querido. Click here to learn more about A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will help answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call