Struggling to Connect During the Pandemic? Try this Simple Solution
by Mary Sue Wilkinson,
Founder of Singing Heart to Heart and Author of “Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care” with contributions from Teepa Snow
Have you ever called a family member or a friend on their birthday to sing Happy Birthday to them? In my family this is a common occurrence. When family or friends are far away, this simple act lets them know you care and always brings a smile.
Due to the restrictions in place to keep residents of senior care communities safe from COVID-19, family members and friends are most likely restricted from in-person visits. This reality affects people living with dementia in an especially cruel way. Window visits can be confusing and conversations on the phone or even via Zoom or Skype can be challenging.
But what if you still want to connect? What if you just want your loved ones to know you haven’t forgotten them, and that you love them?
Several years ago, one of my friends came up with this unique solution. It was before the virus, but she lived far away from her dad who was living with dementia. She wanted to stay connected to him and she would do anything just to brighten his day. Here's her story:
A Singing Phone Call
My father went to live in a home in Cadillac, Michigan in late November. I live in Mason, Michigan near Lansing, so I don't get to see him very often. I started calling him, but he couldn't understand me, and I couldn't understand him. So, I started singing and he, of course, started singing along (one word behind mine). So, now I call every day, and we try to start a conversation, but quickly he will say, are you going to sing? And of course, I sing. If my eight-year-old granddaughter is nearby, she will join in.
I don’t stay on the phone long. I just share a song or two and tell him I love him. We always end with the chorus of You Are My Sunshine. We sing it at least twice. These calls are one small way I can stay connected.
Here are some extra steps my friend took to make sure the calls were successful.
First, she called the home and alerted the caregivers that she was about to call. She asked them to turn off the TV in her dad’s room and to make sure the speaker was turned on for the phone.
Why? Because people living with dementia often have a hard time sorting out the sounds around them. Competing with the TV would not be a good idea.
My friend then placed the call and greeted her father. After saying hello and telling him who it was, she would say Let’s sing a song together! She chose familiar old songs such as Let Me Call You Sweetheart, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, Home on the Range, For He's a Jolly Good Fellow, or When You're Smiling. She knew her dad would recognize these songs. You can try one of these old standbys or better yet personalize it with a family favorite.
Do you have to have a perfect singing voice to try this? I hope you know my answer to that. A resounding No!
Will it seem a bit awkward at first? Maybe. Give it a few tries. Remember that each day is different and you will not always get the same response.
Is it worth it?
My friend’s dad proudly told others about the calls and the songs. And my friend had a little peace of mind, knowing that even though she was far away she could share her love and a moment of joy with her dad.
This simple strategy doesn’t solve the ongoing heartbreak of the isolation so many are faced with right now, but it may offer a few moments of joy and connection. I’d say it is sure worth a try.