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Top Ten Ways to Use Music in Caregiving

Music is a universal human experience that helps to draw people together across generations, despite differences or disabilities. In my experience as a music therapist, I have helped many caregivers learn ways to use music to enhance the caregiving relationship. Here are my top ten tips:

1. Listen together to your loved one’s music collection.

Break out the records and CDs for the opportunity to be together in a musical experience, and it helps you to learn more about your loved one’s musical experiences.

2. Use songs to spark conversations.

Do you want to hear your mom’s wedding story? Play some wedding songs from her era while looking through the family photo album. Want to talk about your upcoming trip to Hawaii? Play some Don Ho and Elvis to support your conversation.

3. Create playlists for different times of day.

Music can go a long way in setting the mood for various activities. You might want to play different music in the morning than at bedtime, for example.

4. Use music to support exercise.

Here’s a fun fact: Background music can lower a person’s perception of the effort they are expending in exercise by about ten percent. That meansplaying some upbeat music can help your loved one get through all of those exercises needed to maintain physical functioning.

5. Choose relaxation music wisely.

Because of a process known as entrainment, your body’s rhythms will tend to match the music you’re hearing. So, listen to music that is slow and steady, and you’ll feel your breathing slow and your body relax.

6. Try playing with the band.

For a bit of a musical adventure, try playing a tambourine or drum along with one of your loved one’s favorite recordings. Just find a beat you can repeat and add your sounds to the mix.

7. Make up new words to familiar tunes.

Music therapists call these “piggyback songs,” and they can be a great outlet for creativity. For example, change the words of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” to add verses about a granddaughter coming to visit (“She’ll be comin’ from Missouri when she comes”) and what you’ll do once she gets there (“We’ll all go watch a movie when she comes”).

8. Use music to help with bathing and dressing.

Piggyback songs are especially useful for communicating information to people with dementia. Sing about getting ready for a bath, and the whole process will seem less scary.

9. Let music lead to loving touch.

Sing “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” or “Shall We Dance,” and it’s impossible not to hold hands and share a hug. All of us need loving touch, but it can feel awkward in some relationships. Music can help make it more comfortable.

10. Use music for self-care, too.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too! Musical experiences can help you deal with the stress of caregiving as well.