Recently I was visiting with my Mom who has dementia. It was a bad day. If you have a loved one with dementia, you know the kind of day I’m talking about. She didn’t recognize me. She would barely open her eyes and when she did, they were blank. After trying futilely to get her to chat, I opened the Spotify app on my phone and started playing “Mairzy Doats”, a song that I grew up hearing my Mom sing. As the song started to play, I saw her start patting her foot. Then she started to pat her hands and sing along, and yes, she knew the words. Then she opened her eyes, looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, when did you get here?” The music had reached her brain in a way that I could not. This got me thinking about other ways that we could use technology to help.
Music Sparks Memory
There is no doubt that music sparks memory. Specifically, music from a person’s teenage years seems to resonate the most strongly with people. Consider creating personalized playlists based on a person’s age, music preference, or cultural background.
- You may have to do some math. A person in their 90s now would have been a teenager in the 40s. Most streaming services have playlists by decade.
- Did they sing in the choir? Perhaps some good ol’ hymns or gospel music will connect.
- Consider their cultural background. One of my Mom’s “neighbors” in her community is Hispanic and as soon as Latin music starts to play, you see him light up and start to dance.
There are many ways to play music for seniors. Here are some ideas to try.
- An MP3 player with headphones. Headphones can allow you to turn the music louder for those with hearing impairment. They also block out the background noise so the person can focus on the music and not become overly stimulated.
- SMPL Music Players can be turned on and off with the touch of a button and come preloaded with music for seniors. There is one for church music or one that comes preloaded with 40 Oldies.
- Smart Devices such as Alexa or Google Nest can also be used to play music.
Pet Therapy…Without the Pets
You’ll be surprised at how realistic these animals are and the bond that quickly develops. I can’t tell you how many people have stopped to pet “Whiskers”, my Mom’s cat, only to be surprised to realize he’s not real.
Dolls For Seniors
Similarly, caregivers often find baby dolls comforting for residents with dementia.
Therapeutic dolls have been connected with increased smiling and a decrease in challenging behaviors. Some communities have a “nursery” area set aside with a small baby bed, a baby and even a rocking chair so that residents can come rock and soothe the baby … and themselves! If you’re considering starting doll therapy, you may want to consider getting duplicate dolls in case one gets lost or damaged. You may also have more than one resident that wants to care for the baby, so they won’t have to share.
You just want to make sure that the dolls are not TOO realistic, as dolls that cry may cause agitation.
Fidget Blankets and Toys
When feeling anxious, having something to do with the hands can help calm. Fidget blankets with snaps, buckles and ties can help distract from the anxiety. Stores like Five Below have all kinds of fidget toys that your residents may find engaging.
Phones For Seniors
Keeping in touch with family is a lifeline for those in senior living. Covid has made this a challenge, so it’s an amazing gift if you can use technology such as face time or zoom to allow residents to visit with their family. Keep in mind that cell phones or even tablets may be challenging for seniors to hold, so consider using a tablet stand for hands free talking.
On a simpler note, a plain old telephone is a good alternative for more independent seniors. This memory picture phone for seniors allows them to dial just by pushing the picture of the person they want to talk to.