Musical Crossword Puzzle

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Online Dementia Journal

By Online Dementia JournalJune 23rd, 2020

Musical Crossword Puzzle


Executive Director for Dementia Support Northwest and PAC Certified Independent Trainer

As a singer, I was intrigued by a video I had happened upon that showed Teepa demonstrating a musical crossword puzzle. One of my biggest aha moments when reflecting on my PAC training to become a PAC Certified Independent Trainer was learning about the relationship between music and dementia. My grandmother, also a singer, lived with Vascular Dementia for 13 years. Even towards the end, while she could not carry on a conversation or sing a song in its entirety, she was able to hum along with songs from her adolescence. In those moments, she was at peace.

At the time, I was Program Coordinator at a nonprofit called Dementia Support Northwest, where I am now the Executive Director. I was eager to share the crossword puzzle with our Educational Coordinator in hopes she would allow me to do the activity with our Staying Connected Class. The class consists of those in the more moderate stages of dementia. After spending some time wrestling with making perfect squares and aligning words, I had constructed a musical crossword puzzle from songs I knew the class participants were familiar with. I made sure to use songs sung every week in class.

The idea is to tap into that right (rhythm) side of the brain that is so commonly the last side preserved for those living with dementia, by using music. Modeling Teepa, I sang a phrase and left off the last word leaving the participants to finish and fill in the blanks on the puzzle. I spelled the words aloud, slowly, and the class joined in on their own. Their faces displayed a sense of achievement and confidence along with the innocent joy from signing. It was beautiful.  Click here to see my musical crossword how-to video.

Now, our organization like many others are operating virtually. To give our care partners tools to keep their loved ones active at home, I recorded a video detailing why and how to do a musical crossword puzzle. I was blown away by the responses, asking for more and sharing how much not only their loved one enjoyed the exercise, but the care partners as well. I continue to create the puzzles and have involved our virtual Staying Connected participants in the planning process, which gives us a wonderful interaction going over old favorites. My children have even gotten in on the fun. The musical take on the crossword puzzle is so fun and natural, performance anxiety is minimal if at all.

Joann Clemo is a PAC Certified Independent Trainer who resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three young daughters, two cats, and two dogs. Joann is an Army Veteran, Western Washington University Human Services Graduate (2019), and is currently enrolled at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak School of Social Work, completing her Master’s in Social Work.  After witnessing her grandmother’s journey with vascular dementia for 13 years, she discovered her calling was to support those affected by dementia. Joann passionately directs a nonprofit called Dementia Support Northwest, where she oversees the organization and facilitates support groups for both care partners and those living with dementia. Joann is also proudly an active member of the Dementia Action Collaborative: Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.

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