A Music Resource for Dementia Care

by Bev Foster

Connecting Through Music with People with Dementia: A Guide for Caregivers Robin Rio, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009  (143 pgs) Available at www.amazon.ca $25.60 paperback Recently, I came across a user-friendly resource for health care providers, family and volunteer caregivers of persons with dementia, who want to more effectively integrate music into their care. Written by music therapist Robin Rio, she intends the book to be used as “an interactive tool in creating a musical atmosphere for time shared with someone who has dementia.” Her passion and experience with the dementia population is evident through personal anecdotes and through practical tips for caregivers. For example, she offers 10 ways to make a melodic connection, 15 ways to make a rhythmic connection. And you don’t have to be musician to use music. She says “it’s not the level of musicianship or the quality of your voice that makes for the most meaningful interactions. It’s a sense of fun and engagement”.  Rio recommends live music-making “sessions” which provide optimal connection. Sessions may last 15-30 minutes including an opening song, instrument playing, movement, singing. She coaches the caregiver on a variety of responses and reactions that may be encountered and how to evaluate them. She also recommends core songs and includes a song list prepared by the American Association of Music Therapy (Jackert et al, 2003). This list was compiled by a group of music therapists with extensive experience doing music in the eldercare population and includes a table of frequently requested songs. One of the key tips Rio offers the caregiver is to look for songs that were popular in the decade when the person with dementia was a teenager and young adult. According to research, most older adults show preference to music at this time in their lives (Peters, 2000). Another important tip she cites (Clair, 1996) is this: singing in a lower key with music that has been slowed down makes it much easier for the person with dementia to be able to participate. And this advice by Rio particularly caught my attention reflecting the compassionate and practical help you will receive  from this book: Even if someone is unable to respond, unless there is profound hearing loss, he is still hearing your voice. Even with a hearing loss, leaning in close to someone and singing to him will generate warm feelings and enhance the mood and environment. There are vibrations produced when we sing which can be felt in the body of both the singer and the listener. The only time it’s important to not sing is if the music-making seems to disturb or distress the person you are caring for in any way.   References: Clair, A.A., (1996). Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults. St. Louis, MO: MMB Music. Jackert, L. et al, (2003). Music Therapy and elderly Persons: Innovative Approaches. American Music Therapy Association Pre-Conference Institute Publication. Silverspring, MD: AMTA Peters, J.S., (2000). Music Therapy: An Introduction. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas