Tips for Using Music When Visiting People Living With Dementia

by | May 19, 2021 | Care Tips, Involving Others, Resources

Mary Sue Wilkinson, founder of Singing Heart to Heart, sharing a song during a music visit (photo by Myrna Jacobs Photography)
Mary Sue Wilkinson, founder of Singing Heart to Heart, shares her 5 tips for how to include music when visiting a person living with dementia.

Whether your loved one lives at home or in a care residence, it’s likely that old friends and family members will want to visit. They may actually be nervous or hesitant to do so because they are not sure how they should act, or what they should say or do.

For many people, it has been a long time since being able to have face-to-face visits. When dementia is involved, returning to in-person visits may be especially challenging.

Music can help make any visit happier and more meaningful – for everyone. Here are my 5 tips for how to include music when visiting people living with dementia.

Tip #1 – When Words Fail, Turn to Music

When conversations are difficult, or even impossible, turn to music. You may not be able to talk with each other, but you can still enjoy music together.

Music can be the “great equalizer.” Singing together and listening to music can bring happiness regardless of skill or memory.

Tip #2 – Bring Music With You

Plan ahead, and bring music with you to your visit. Select holiday music or music popular when the person living with dementia was young. Share it by saying “I brought some music I thought we could enjoy together.”

You may share songs on your phone, perhaps even some singalong videos. But consider bringing a record player or a CD player. In fact, if the person you are visiting does not have a CD player in their room, consider purchasing one as a gift.

Tip #3 – Sing Well-Known Songs

Sing well-known and simple songs together, such as “You Are My Sunshine” or “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Or, choose well-known holiday songs. Holiday songs often evoke the strongest responses from people, bringing a powerful connection. Even singing one or two songs will lift spirits – for everyone.

I have two collections of well-known songs for sale (CD or download) at “Songs You Know by Heart” and “Folk Song Favorites for Young and Old.” If your loved one asks for a song you don’t have ready, try searching YouTube to find it quickly.

Tip #4 – Involve Children

If possible, involve your children or grandchildren in planning a musical visit. Give them the job of figuring out what was popular when your loved one was in their 20’s and 30’s, and then downloading some of that music to play during the visit.

If your children or grandchildren have a smartphone, ask them to create a special playlist. Also ask if they have a wireless speaker they could bring along on the visit.

Tip #5 — Add Energy

As your loved one is able, engage physically with the music. Add some energy and fun to your musical time together by patting and clapping to the beat. Dance together, either standing or seated and holding hands.

Even if the person living with dementia no longer remembers you or others who visit, they will remember how they are made to feel. Using music when visiting people living with dementia can build connections with memories and emotions, creating moments of joy.

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Author Bio: Mary Sue is the the author of “Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care” and the founder of Singing Heart to Heart. She is a career educator and a professional musician. And she loves to sing! Learn more about Mary Sue at singinghearttoheart.com.

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