The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #143037   Message #3300030
Posted By: Genie
31-Jan-12 - 11:10 PM
Thread Name: Entertaining dementia patients
Subject: RE: Entertaining dementia patients
Yes, if you do songs that the residents remember (usually, but not always, from their childhood), it helps stimulate memory as well as emotions.    (And tears are not always a bad thing, either.)   But even people with dementia can sometimes learn to sing along with a new song (or one they've forgotten they knew) if it has simple, repetitive parts.   E.g., I've often had great success with getting Alzheimer's patients to sing and dance along to "La Bamba" even if they don't know Spanish, because it's so lively and the refrain is so simple.


It helps a lot to come prepared with a large and somewhat diverse repertoire of possible songs, because, as has been pointed out before, memory care facilities today may have residents ranging from their mid-fifties to their nineties.

I've been doing music professionally for the full range of senior facilities, including nursing homes and memory care units, for a number of years. Each population is a little different (e.g., in Jewish homes, there are some Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino favorites and in communities with many Hispanics those "old favorites" will be popular Spanish songs). If it's a Christian community, many of the old-time hymns or spirituals will probably get a lot of people singing along. (I use a medley of "Jesus Loves Me" and "He's Got The Whole World In His Hand" often in groups like this, and it gets most people singing along and/or tapping their feet or clapping.)

But one thing that very often is a great asset is having the residents use rhythm instruments while I play and sing and some sing along.   Many who can't sing along do just fine with the rhythm instruments.    (I recommend using relatively soft percussion instruments, because the noise can get quite loud otherwise.)

If there are staff members present ? which is ALWAYS important, for reasons mentioned above ? they can often get some residents up to dance to the music too.

Song sheets, I've found, are seldom very helpful with any group where attention span is an issue. Even in assisted living facilities, I've found they can be as much a distraction (with people flipping through the pages instead of focusing on the music at hand) as a help. (Actually, that can happen even in song circles with young, "normal" people - but that's a topic for many another thread.)

When I sing for and with dementia groups, it's delightful to do silly songs, e.g., parodies of old favorites.
E.g.,
"Let Me Call You Lizzie, You're the Car For Me" ("Let Me Call You Sweetheart")
"Harry, Harry, Here Is My Answer True" ("Bicycle Built For Two")
"Red Snails In My Sunsuit" ("Red Sails In The Sunset")
or a parody of "My Bonnie" in which "I stuck my feet out of the window./ Next morning, my neighbors had fled."
or "Doggie In The Window" as a bark-along song.
There are almost always a few residents who crack up when I sing a silly song or comic twist to an oldie.   Even if 80 % of my audience doesn't "get" the humor, it's worth it to see that spark of recognition and delight in the faces of those who can.    I think getting people to laugh is one of the best sorts of therapy.
And the good thing about Alzheimer's is that a good joke never gets old.


Something I would also recommend ? though it's hard advice for me to follow ? is not to be reluctant to sing the same time 2 or 3 times during the same session.    Very often, when I ask for requests or just get them spontaneously, they are for songs we've just finished doing a few minutes ago. Obviously that's because singing them makes them pop into people's minds.      I don't like to repeat a song in a group where many in the audience are very much aware that we've just sung it, but in a group where pretty much everyone had short-term memory deficits, it can work very well to repeat the song.   You may find even more people singing along the second or third time through.