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”.