What an interesting night…..

It’s never a dull moment in a dementia unit. Staff is constantly dealing with a wide variety of issues. Some residents don’t talk at all, others talk too much and too loud. Most residents are cooperative but you know, everyone has a bad day once in a while….right?

It’s a dance, for sure. Now it’s my turn to “dance” so the staff can have a few moments to do their charting or planning for other activities. My intention is to satisfy all, and leave in an hour seeing smiling faces and happy eye gazing.

Of course, I mean it’s my turn to “sing” not “dance”, lol.

I arrive to meet a new gentleman, Ken, who is happy and quite talkative. He doesn’t look a day over 70 or 75. He is sure he knows me from his high school days. I go along with the idea in general, but mention where I’m actually from and where I went to high school. I try to engage in casual conversation about other things in an effort to change the subject. (He will continue to talk a lot, and to mention that he knows me throughout our music time together…even while we are in the middle of a song…and I will smile and look him in the eye and nod a happy acknowledgement back at him).

We start out pretty lively….residents are revved up so I take that as my cue. I constantly look into their faces and see who is ready to engage. One lady before we even start, is asking for the Beatles. Yikes, I never start with the Beatles.

First song…I Wanna Hold Your Hand. They love it. Most are taking my cue, and moving to the beat. I look around and make eye contact when I can. If they are looking at me, I make it last. I smile and let them know I’m singing to them…..it matters…and it works. They are listening. They are trying to sing back to me. They are happy. They are feeling they are part of this moment…..that’s my job……that’s what really matters.

When the song is over, I start to clap. Sure, I guess it seems like I’m clapping for myself, but before long others start to clap. That’s it. We’re off to the races. Everyone is having a good time.

Jean gets up from her chair. Jean is a walker. This is common. She can’t sit still for long and constantly needs to be on the go. Each time I’m here we deal with her attempts to walk behind me and my piano. I’ve tried a variety of things to stop this…but the challenge is constant. Luckily I have the ability to maintain the beat and rhythm of a song, and deal with Jean at the same time. I actually sing to her in fun with the melody of the song. Instead of the real words I sing….”Jean is behind my piano….where are you Jean? Come over here Jean….”

This draws the attention of the staff and they come over and help to maneuver Jean back to her seat. The song has continued, and the residents are engaging as though nothing has even happened. Gotta love the power of music….

I stick to the 60’s for a few songs….The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Young Love, Happy Together. A few of the older residents seem a little bored…it’s time to redirect so I turn to the 50’s with Amore by Dean Martin. This is a show-stopper for all ages, and sure enough everyone is engaged.

Ken, the new gentleman mentioned above, has quite a loud speaking voice, and he is talking frequently while I’m singing. I mention before the next song that I want to hear everyone singing on the next song. (If I can get him more focused on the songs and music, he will stop interrupting as much, and everyone will be able to focus and engage more in the music).

It works. Everyone is singing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Ken has a nice singing voice. I smile at him as he sings all the words. I sense he is happy that I am paying attention to him. I continue to sing directly with him to the end of the song.

I fill the space between songs with light banter. Everyone is with me. It’s time for another old-time favourite…..Side by Side.

It’s amazing how old songs work to bring everyone together. Now they are singing more, and not just listening.

There is a wide range of ages in the room….probably 70 to 95….that’s two to three generations.

I jump back and forth between the 50’s/60’s, the 30’s, and then sing Country Road by John Denver.

Easy listening from the 70’s/80’s works nicely. It’s calming. Everyone has heard the songs before.

Wow, an hour has flown by. We’re down to the last couple of songs. I decide to sing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” I joke with them and tell them I gotta home to feed my cat. Everyone is content. Everyone enjoyed their sing-along with Susie Q:)

Smiles

Smiles and singing go a long way together. They are like a marriage. They are certainly both contagious.

I arrived Tuesday morning at one of the local dementia units to sing with the residents. One lady, Hilda, who is non-verbal, was visibly sad and crying, and her mood was affecting the entire room.

She was sitting in the front row to my left. I made sure I didn’t set the speaker too close to her, and was careful setting my volume. I knew the importance of having the music just loud enough to create engagement, but not so loud to be bothersome.

I say hello and smile to everyone. I always look around to see who is making eye contact. I can then interact easily with those residents, and create easy banter to start shifting the mood in a different direction.

I consider the mood of the room as I pick the starting songs….not too slow, yet easy to sing, usually works. Sure enough, three or four ladies are singing along with me to the first song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”.

Hilda is in her own little world. I regularly glance over and hope she and I will lock eyes. But at the same time, I carefully consider not to single her out…..I only want to be there for her if she wants to engage.

A few songs go by and then we sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. I sing it with all the passion I can muster.

She looks at me and I sing straight to her.

She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t sing, but she does lock eyes with me. She stays looking at me until we finish the song.

At the end of our sing-along time, she isn’t crying anymore.

Before leaving, I go to her side and touch her on the shoulder. “Hilda, have a nice day. I’ll see you again real soon”.

She really was listening….

I have told many of you my story before. I started singing for the elderly when my grandmother, who had dementia, was in a nursing home. I would regularly visit her, and we would sing our favourite songs together.

Sometimes, however, grandma was not in the mood to sing. I always felt a little disappointed, but I would sing all our favourite songs anyway.

I assumed grandma wasn’t listening. She certainly seemed to not be listening.

I would often mention to the staff, on my way out, how grandma was doing. Either “she was singing and smiling up a storm today”, or “no, she wasn’t in the mood for singing today.”

Then the nurses started noticing that actually I was wrong….she was singing today! They said that quite often on the days I would visit, she was happier and more engaged than she had been previously in the day.

This was so encouraging for me! All I really wanted was to make grandma happy. And I was, after all:)