By: Rachael Wonderlin

Dementia care consultant and author of Dementia By Day.

If you went into Marie’s room and asked her to join you in a program, not only would she decline, but she’d usually tell you that she “felt sick.” “Oh, honey,” she’d lament, “I would, but I’m just too sick and I’m so tired.” Marie would then give a half-hearted cough, “See?”

Marie was actually really outgoing and social when she was out of her room, but the leaving-of-the-room part was the challenge. Marie felt some of her limitations and it bothered her: she knew she was forgetful and was frustrated by this. She knew she couldn’t do everything she used to do.

The only thing that consistently convinced Marie to leave her room was her favorite song. The second “Blueberry Hill” came on over the speakers, Marie would twirl out of her bedroom, cane in hand, no sleepiness to speak of. “This is my favorite song!” she’d call out, a huge smile on her face.

Marie had a beautiful singing voice, which, like the rest of her talents, she’d tuck away until a special opportunity arose.

This is the case with many people living with dementia: music can completely change the feeling of a room, someone’s mood, or the dining experience. Many times, music is the catalyst for further programming. It gets residents out of their rooms and energizes them. It changes the way a common area felt and gently woke everyone up from naps or got them moving again after lunch.

Music allows people to go where their minds take them, and people living with dementia are no different. With the help of music, you may begin finding new and interesting ways to get residents engaged with the world around them. Importantly, as well, is the fact that music that is important to them is music that can change how they respond. Gerdner (2000) found that listening to one’s preferred music can help a person connect to the past, thereby reducing stress and anxiety that comes from dementia.

In more recent research at the University of Utah, researchers used fMRI that showed that when a person listens to music that is personally important and memorable, a unique region of the brain and one of the last areas to be damaged by dementia becomes active. They also found that personally, meaningful music caused multiple parts of the brain to work together simultaneously.

For a sleepy crowd—after a large lunch, perhaps—you might find energizing music to get everyone ready for the next program. For a tired, overwhelmed group—after a local preschool visited, maybe—find calming music.

Music is also a great way to introduce new life stations and activities to residents. When given a full room to build a baby station or pet shop in, put a CD player in the room, and begin piping music in. Leave the door open and know that your residents will find the baby area without any more assistance: they just follow the music.

Music is also a program in-and-of-itself. Singing, dancing, bringing in a piano player or another music-based performer always energizes an entire community. Even 1-1 programming with music is powerful. Bring music into a room where someone is passing peacefully with hospice care: you’ll see residents’ faces relax, even with their closed eyes, as comforting sound comes to their ears.

Eversound can bring that about powerful experiences for your residents. One of the most timely programs that they offer is for visits between residents and family members, which is some of the best type of programming available.

We know from the research that hearing impairments and dementia are not only linked but positively correlated. People living with dementia often have trouble hearing, so a window visit could prove to be a real challenge. Eversound’s dual headphone sets take care of that: now, a resident’s daughter can speak directly to her through the headphones. A story on Eversound’s website tells of a nursing assistant watch a woman with hearing difficulties responding happily to her daughter through the window. This is the power of sound.

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