Book Review: "Songs You Know By Heart"

As a music therapist in eldercare, I appreciate any resource that encourages more music-making among elders and their caregivers.

Sadly, many caregivers are put off by the false assumption that they “can’t sing” or “aren’t musical.” Likewise, it can be difficult to know how to encourage older adults to participate in singing and moving to music if they aren’t doing it already.

If this is the case in your corner of the world, Mary Sue Wilkinson’s new book Songs You Know By Heart may be the just the tool you were looking for.

What’s Inside

In this simple guide, Mary Sue shares a few basic caregiving concepts (including an excellent contribution by Teepa Snow on her GEMS™ Dementia Classification model), but the bulk of the material presented is practical and user-friendly. You get tips for choosing music, inviting participation, and adapting your approach according to a person’s stage of dementia.

Mary Sue also includes a CD and MP3 downloads of 18 familiar sing-along songs, as well as recommendations for using each track for various music experiences. Then, sprinkled throughout the book are anecdotes and photos to remind the reader just what benefits can come from sharing music in dementia care.

My Thoughts

The most important aspect of Songs You Know By Heart is that it is approachable and encouraging for readers with any level of music or caregiving skill. While you could read this book straight through from cover to cover, it may work best as a handy reference guide, allowing you to flip to the section you need to engage a particular person or troubleshoot a particular problem.

I also appreciate that Mary Sue emphasizes the importance of using music to encourage connecting with and relating to other people. This is in contrast to how I’ve seen some people use iPods with older adults – after setting up a playlist of preferred music, they leave the elder alone to listen to their music. Sure, some folks enjoy listening to music alone some of the time, but we’d be missing out on much of the benefit of music in dementia care if we never did music together with other people. Social interaction in and around the music is vital.

One potential weakness of Songs You Know By Heart is that it relies heavily on a set of singalong songs that are getting pretty old. While I do still use all of the songs included on the CD in the music therapy sessions I lead, some of them are losing their popularity as they become the songs that residents’ parents loved rather than songs the residents themselves enjoyed. The Baby Boomers who are beginning to need dementia care are going to need different music to share with their caregivers.

Overall, I think Songs You Know By Heart is a handbook that should be in every activity director’s office and every Alzheimer’s Association chapter library. Readers of this blog know the benefits of music in dementia care. This book makes it that much easier for anyone to make music part of their caregiving relationship.

You can purchase Songs You Know By Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music In Dementia Care on Mary Sue Wilkinson’s website

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