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Tell Me More – Part Two (Musical Life)

This post is especially for caregivers of loved ones with dementia. In my last post, I suggested some questions you might want to answer about your loved one’s emotional life. These insights can help all of your loved one’s caregivers provide better care. As a music therapist, I am also particularly interested in your loved one’s musical life. We discover a lot through listening to and making music together (sometimes more than you might know already!), but it also helps to have the background information you can provide.

Here are some questions I would like to ask about your loved one’s musical life:

1. Did your loved one ever play an instrument? Did he/she play in an ensemble or sing in a choir?

Formal musical training is absolutely not required for successful participation in music therapy, but if your loved one has had some formal training, it is helpful to know. It might change the kinds of music I introduce in sessions or the way we talk about music together. It is also helpful to know of any “informal” instrument playing experiences – playing piano by ear, playing the harmonica or autoharp, or jamming on the banjo with a local pickers and fiddlers.

2. When have you heard your loved one sing? What did this person sing?

A lot of people will claim to be non-musical or tone deaf, but they actually did like to sing. Maybe she sang in church services each week, or hummed a tune while working around the house. Maybe the only time he ever sang was for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the ballpark. It doesn’t matter how good they sounded – it all counts. (Whistling, too!)

3. What is your loved one’s interest in dance?

Did this person go to school dances or learn ballroom dance with a spouse? Maybe you never saw your mother dance, but she insisted that you take ballet lessons. Or maybe your parents were opposed to dancing on religious grounds. This information will help me know whether someone would be open to moving rhythmically and expressively.

4. What did your loved one listen to on the radio or watch on TV?

Whether it was the Grand Ol’ Opry, the local gospel station, or the Lawrence Welk show, this is probably a good indication of what kind of music your loved one likes, and we know from research that client-preferred music is important in music therapy. 

5. What else do you know about your loved one’s musical preferences and experiences?

Did this person attend concerts or shows regularly? Did she do music-related things on vacations? Did he express a strong dislike of the Beatles back in the ’60s? Anything you can add here is helpful, too!

Music therapy can be successful even without much background information, but whatever insight you can provide as the caregiver will help music therapy sessions to be more valuable. Plus, we can use this background information to help you find great ways to use music at home as well.

Do these questions spark any special memories about your loved ones? Please leave a comment below!

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