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Nurturing New Relationships Through Music

How do you establish rapport with a new client?

How do you let them know that you want to know them on a personal level, not just as a name or room number?

How do you begin building a meaningful relationship?

Sometimes starting a new relationship with a client is a piece of cake for us eldercare professionals. You’re in this field for a reason, and person-to-person “soft skills” probably come naturally to you.

When establishing rapport is difficult, however, creative caregiving can be especially helpful.

In my last post, I offered some ideas for using art and visual media to help nurture a new relationship. In this post, I’ll share some ideas for building relationships through music.

Try these ideas:

Ask your client what kind of music they like. This seems like a simple question, but believe it or not, many people can’t answer it. In that case, you might ask about particular genres (country, rock and roll, opera) or about particular artists (Bach, Simon and Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald).

Hint: Don’t forget to ask about “church music” for a client who is Christian. Many folks seem to leave this one out.

Make their playback equipment accessible. Being able to play back your own preferred music can be a significant bit of independence to give back to a senior. To help an elder, you may need to label the volume, play and stop buttons for easier use. You can glue a bead or button onto the appropriate controls for seniors who have visual impairments. You could also write a short checklist to remind them of the procedure for using a more complicated gadget (e.g. 1. Push the red power button. 2. Press the green play button. 3. Adjust the volume knob.) Whatever you do, make it foolproof for your senior!

Hint: Ask your senior to check your work by showing you they can follow the procedure you showed them.

Help your senior find their favorite radio station.

Hint: If you aren’t the only caregiver for your senior, make sure to write down which is their favorite station (or stations) so that others won’t change the channel.

Talk with your senior about their CD or record collection. Take note of their favorite artists and genres.

Hint: Make sure their favorite CDs are in reach.

Bring recordings of songs from several different genres, and spend time listening to these with you client. Take note of which ones they like and dislike.

Hint: Plan the recordings you’ll bring based on what you learned in previous conversations.

Following these tips will not only help you establish a good caregiving relationship with your senior, but it will also give you important information as to your client’s music preferences. This information will be useful for your future creative caregiving efforts.

6 comments… add one
  • Rachelle,

    I would have forgotten to ask about church music. I really appreciate your practical suggestions for making musical devices available. So many of my clients felt deprived of music, but unsure of their technology.


    • I hope you’ll be able to help them get what they need.

  • Great recommendations, Rachelle. I would add being sure they know how to turn off the devices. (“Turn off the TV/radio/etc” is a common request I receive from elders.) And, be aware many electronic items are not friendly to low vision or impaired fine motor movement.

    • YES! Knowing how to turn off the noise is VERY important, as well as adaptations for visual and physical impairments.

  • Hi Rachelle – Love the new look of your blog and website! I must say I have a hard time with all the new technology. I feel very frustrated about it often, so I can imagine the larger frustration of older adults. Also I think they might just give up on devices too small & too complex to understand quickly. I know I do that as well. I always think of my mom and her peers when I read your work and also JoAnn’s. It feels bittersweet to me. ty, K

    • I hear that frustration from a lot of folks! I think we can do a lot to help older adults, including folks with dementia, to access music, though.

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