Music reaches all of us emotionally. It can bring tears to our eyes, give us goosebumps, grate on our ears, calm us, or send us out of the room. People with dementia respond to music just as surely as people with healthy brains. We don’t need rational thought to respond to music.
But rational thought is necessary to play a CD on the stereo or find your favorite music channel on the television. How can we help our loved ones who have dementia continue to access and enjoy the music that brings them enjoyment and comfort?
I’m not very technical. In my home, I still have a much-loved stereo and collection of CDs. At work, I have one of the original iPods loaded with my CD collection. Every day at work and at home I use my memory and thinking skills to operate my stereo and iPod to play my favorite tunes. If you are with your loved one daily, you can use your skills to keep music in his or her life as well. But without help, people with dementia become cut off from music.
Use the existing stereo or television
With clients in the earlier stages, we have created CDs with a collection of their favorite pieces and they have been able, for a time, to put that one CD in a player by themselves. We also tune their televisions to their favorite music stations: most cable services include music stations so that you can select the ones your loved one enjoys.
Graduate to an iPod shuffle
Follow Dan Cohen’s lead and turn to iTunes (see his work at musicandmemory.org) and iPod shuffles, or another type of MP3 player. Choose one that will shuffle (randomly play whatever is loaded on it) and has only an on/off button, so that your loved one can operate it successfully. Buy two. Load one with the music your loved one finds entertaining and the other with a selection of music that he or she finds calming and comforting.
Update the television with a streaming device
There is a world of music accessible with a smart TV or streaming device. I invested in a Roku device (which cost me less than $50). The two channels I get the most enjoyment from are Pandora, a free music streaming app, and YouTube, which can provide hours of long-running audio/video selections of music or nature. With Pandora, you create individual music channels and then train Pandora to play the music you like by clicking like or dislike with the remote. You can quickly and easily set up Pandora to provide an array of channels with music that meet your loved one’s every need.
YouTube provides thousands of selections of music, but also birdsong, babbling brooks, forests, lakes, beaches—anything you can imagine in the natural world. By playing a selection, you prompt YouTube to offer you similar selections. I now have YouTube trained to offer me crackling fires for chilly mornings, birdsong in meadows and gardens, sunsets over gentle waves, waterfalls and forest walks, all with just a few clicks of the remote. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightingale sounds like, try clicking on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK2_bcQcoD4 for three hours of beauty that delight both eye and ear.
You can use YouTube videos streamed on any television to bring the beauty of music and nature into your loved one’s room in a care facility or living room at home. All you need is internet access. Music adds beauty, stirs happy memories, and brings fulfilment into our lives. Let’s keep it in our loved ones’ lives when they become unable to do so themselves.