Older Asian Man Sitting By DaughterWhat’s the value of a smile? Of a dance? Of finding one’s place in a new community?

Imagine you’ve just moved to a memory care community. It’s disorienting, to say the least. Your daughter is right there by your side, and everyone is really nice, saying, “Bob, how are you doing?” “Bob, would you like some coffee?” “I think that dog likes you, Bob!” But you don’t remember having met these people. And that’s not your dog. And where can you find a bathroom around here?

Or maybe you’re Christine, Bob’s “number two daughter,” and you just want him to be happy. Most of the time, Dad can carry on a conversation like nothing’s wrong. He does magic tricks for the grandkids, and he grumbles about the politicians in Washington just like always. But he can’t seem to get dressed all the way, and he forgets to feed the dog. You knows he’s forgetting his medications, too, and you’re scared he’ll take too many and really hurt himself. The last straw was when Dad took the dog out on a walk last week and couldn’t find his way home. He was just across the street.

Or maybe you’re Shelly, and you’re the community liaison who just helped Christine move Bob to his new apartment. You know this will be the right place for him and that it always takes time for them to settle in, but you’re anxious to please both Bob and Christine. You want them both to know that they’ve made the right decision. In that effort to please, you suggest that Bob and Christine attend the music group starting soon.

The music therapist has already begun the session and is singing a familiar song incorporating each participant’s name into the verses. As the music-making continues, Bob and Christine fit right in, and Bob answers a couple of name that tune questions and sings along with a couple of songs. He seems to be enjoying himself. So does everyone else, actually, even those ladies in wheelchairs that barely seem awake most of the time – Barbara is smiling, and Dolores is tapping her toes.

The session ends, and the music therapist puts on one last song to play while she picks up the drums and tambourines the participants have been playing. She’s dancing around a bit as she moves around the group, and when she gets to Bob, she accepts his tambourine and gives a rhythmic little shake as she turns around to put it away.

That’s when it happens. Bob – Dad – stands up and starts wiggling his hips side to side. Christine pops up, too, grabs her daddy’s hands and starts dancing with him. They’re moving their feet and wiggling their arms – nothing too fancy but absolutely perfect at the same time. Shelly grabs her phone to snap a quick photo. She knows Christine will want that later.

The song ends. The music therapist claps her hands for the dancers, and a few other residents join in. Then Bob and Christine, smiling, walk back down the hallway to find some lunch.

It could have been a rough day. But with music? One more day made sublime.


5 Offbeat Ways To Age Out Loud

The news is out – people over the age of 65 are living differently than the senior citizens of decades gone by. No more do you have to plan on finishing up the last year of your life in a quiet retirement home somewhere. Nope, now you can age out loud. Of course, there are […]

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Song Spotlight: “Beyond the Sunset”

Theme/Topic: Anticipatory Grief, Goodbye Mood/Tempo: Thoughtful, processing, slow Genre/Style: Country, Gospel You may hear “Beyond the Sunset” at funerals, perhaps when a spouse has passed away after decades of marriage. In a hospice setting, it can lead into important existential conversations, or it could simply provide a non-verbal container for two people to express their love for one […]

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Song Spotlight: “Annie’s Song”

Theme/Topic: Love, Nature Mood/Tempo: Easy listening, moderate tempo Genre/Style: Folk Rock/Country Many of our patients here in the Midwest love John Denver’s music. While most people know his popular songs “Country Roads” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” I have found “Annie’s Song” to be particularly special in eldercare because of its beautiful words […]

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New Humorous Verses for “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”

If you’ve been around eldercare for a while, you’ve probably heard the song “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Despite the fact that this song, published in 1910, is older that almost all of the clients we serve, it remains a popular choice, simply because many, many people know the melody and the words. In terms […]

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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 […]

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Stay for a Little While: A Song Celebrating Young Caregivers

Our friend Bakhus Saba, who cares for his mother who has dementia, has released a new song with the message that children bring smiles and happiness to loved ones living with dementia. This song has an uplifting, cheerful feeling that indeed matches the in-the-moment happiness that I often see in the experiences of older adults […]

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Song Spotlight: A Place In The Sun

Theme: Sunshine, Hope Mood: Hopeful, Optimistic Style: Soul Have you talked about the weather yet today? Weather is a reliable conversation starter in just about every group of people, including groups that include older adults and caregivers. Of course, we can rejoice or commiserate over the actual outside conditions or reminisce about the worst snowstorm/tornado/flood […]

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Top 10 Songs About The Weather

I don’t know what it’s like in your neck of the woods, but here in the Midwest, the weather is a popular topic of discussion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s rainy, snowy, or a perfectly sunny day – the weather is a pretty reliable conversation starter. Here’s a collection of 10 songs about the weather, […]

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Top 10 Rules To Break In Music Therapy Groups In Senior Living

…or rather, “rules.” As diligent students, we music therapists graduate from our programs and become board-certified with certain ideas of how things should work in music therapy sessions. But of course, music therapists work with people, and with human beings, there is an exception to every rule. As I’ve matured as a clinician, I have […]

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