Tips to Add to Your Engagement Toolbox

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By Online Dementia JournalDecember 16th, 2021

Tips to Add to Your Engagement Toolbox

The new year is right around the corner! Rather than create a long list of musical New Year’s resolutions, I thought it might be a good idea to return to an overview of the basics. Following is a section taken from chapter two of my book, Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care.

The suggestions below apply to any music session or experience you might create. The CD I am referring to below comes with the book when you purchase it through Teepa’s website.  It contains 18 songs of favorite oldies in a downloadable format and a CD. Visit Teepa’s website if you are interested in the CD separately, a companion digital download of a matching songbook, or my latest Folk Song CD.

With or without my CDs, I hope these resources will help you get off to a great start as you welcome 2022. Happy Musical New Year!

Tips & Tricks to Keep in Your Music Toolbox

  • Be a cheerleader. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. Keep up the encouragement. Things might begin slowly, so don’t give up too soon.
  • Get to know which songs they like. Songs from their childhood and youth are most important. Find out which songs on the CD they like. Then ask questions of anyone who can provide information, so you can expand your repertoire. Personal preferences matter.
  • Observe. Keep your eyes open and look closely. Pay attention to facial expressions. Are toes tapping or fingers moving? Do people look comfortable? Are they participating? Responses may be very small and may take time to show up. Be a good detective.
  • Repetition is rewarding. Don’t be afraid to keep repeating songs and activities. This allows slower moving brains to catch up.
  • On cue. Consider using one song over and over as a cue. It could be a good morning song, a good night song, a hello song, a time to get dressed song, or a song for bathing.
  • Mix it up. Make your own playlist. You don’t have to follow the order of the CD.
  • Talk about it. Be open to hearing about feelings and memories. This is one of the most precious benefits of singing old familiar songs together. Invite conversation by asking questions, but don’t put people on the spot. Keep in mind that for people with memory loss, being asked questions may be frustrating and answering may not even be possible. If you sense frustration, let it go and move on.
  • Don’t be afraid of sadness and tears. There will be songs that make people feel sad. Music creates opportunities for people to express grief and for you to offer comfort. Don’t be afraid of this. Allow people to express sorrow and acknowledge them by saying something like, You have such wonderful memories, don’t you? Then switch to a song with an upbeat tempo and positive message to help everyone change gears.
  • Change happens. Our moods change, our energy levels change, and our brains change, especially in someone with dementia. This will show up in your music session. When it does, it’s up to you to be flexible.
  • The right way? The wrong way? It’s all ok! The purpose of these suggested activities is to help you connect. Unless you push people to do something they don’t want to do, there is no way to goof this up.
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