World Singing Day: How Singing Can Help Those Living with Dementia: From looking after your lung health to promoting social and neural connections, singing can unlock health benefits for everyone – no matter what your voice sounds like!
On World Singing Day (Saturday 15th October), Fran Vandelli, Dementia Lead for Bupa UK, explores what singing and music can do for those living with dementia, along with the best ways to introduce it as a form of communication.
Singing and music can stir up a lot of nostalgia and emotion, which can be a powerful outlet for those living with dementia, especially if advancing dementia has affected their communication skills.. If used in the right way, singing together with your loved one can encourage them to express themselves, and reduce feelings of anxiety, agitation, and apathy.
Singing can foster connections between you and your loved one, helping to create new experiences together at times when emotions may be difficult to manage or process. Along with social connection, singing can:
• Provide stimulation
• Help improve posture and coordination
• Help improve lung function
• Help keep your brain active
• Create a soothing environment
• In some cases, offer a safe alternative to medication for the relief of anxiety
• Help process feelings
• Boost confidence and provide a sense of achievement
• Support memory recall
• Help retain speech and language skills
• Boost morale for both the person living with dementia and their caregivers
Getting the environment and balance right is key, so if you’re thinking about having a singalong with your loved one, follow these 5 principles:
1. Pick your playlist
When selecting your singalong songs, be sure to choose music that your loved one enjoyed when they were younger, especially if they have a history with music – for example, if they played an instrument. You could even ask them if there’s a singer or song they’d like to listen to.
Just like you, your loved one has their own personal music taste so it’s important to include their favourites where you can – as this is most likely to get the best reaction.
2. Think about setting
When introducing music, it’s best to do so in an environment your loved one is familiar with, for example, they may feel at home in a choir, especially if this is something they used to do before their diagnosis. However, it may be wise to first attempt singing together on a one-on-one basis, perhaps where they live.
Make sure that the equipment that you’re using to play the music works well so that things go as smoothly as possible.
3. Introduce things slowly
Sudden changes in the environment or sudden loud noise levels may be startling for a person living with dementia. Be sure to start the music slowly and quietly to give them change to adapt.
4. Review their response
Once your loved one has adjusted to the sound of the music, it’s important to gauge how they respond to it. Remember that, as well as positive associations, music can sometimes bring unwelcome memories. Be sensitive and cautious to their reaction to avoid any unnecessary upset or anxiety.
However, if your loved one appears to be enjoying themselves – for example, they start smiling, humming, bopping along or singing – you could try increasing the volume slightly and singing along with them, if you want to!
5. Be flexible
Remember, just like you, some days your loved one may be in the mood for listening to music – and other days they may not. Observe your loved one’s mood and reactions to decide whether music is an appropriate outlet for the day and try not to be disheartened if they react in a negative way. It could be that the volume isn’t quite right, or it’s not the song they’d like to listen to. Be flexible and tweak your approach to see if there are any adaptations that may help
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