During a recent singing time with clients at Aspen Senior Activity Center, a flood of questions came to mind: What songs will I sing? What topics will I reminisce? And what art projects will I participate in when I’m a client at a Senior Activity Day Center? I actually laughed out loud at the possible answers and want to share some thoughts.

Clients at Aspen enjoy singing hits such as I Love You Truly, Red River Valley, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Harvest Moon, My Wild Irish Rose, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, You’re a Grand Old Flag, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, and Polly Wolly Doodle. Memories are often attached to songs of our past and cause people to enjoy a laugh or spill a tear.

Art projects at Aspen include patriotic and nature (flowers and animals) and holiday scenes done in watercolors, pencils, paint, glitter and glue, stickers, wood, and collage. We remember fondly the days of milking cows and working on the farm (feeding animals, gardening, mending fences, picking fruit) and the creation of drive-in movies, fast food, and rock and roll; we feel grateful and personally strengthened for having survived the depression and WWII; we share memories of listening/dancing to Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and radio programs with family; and learn from each other’s life experiences (from birth to death and everything in between).

I was born in the early 1960s at a time when America was just beginning its 15-year involvement with Vietnam, rock ‘n’ roll and flower power were the happening thing man, President Kennedy was yet to be assassinated, and there was talk about sending a man to the moon.  I remember spending my whole summer break outdoors on a bike, playing kick the can, hide and seek and soccer, swinging, jumping rope, catching lizards, and/or up in a tree house (no television/computer games/cell phones) and feeling safe anywhere; learning to read with Dick and Jane (and Spot); the annual neighborhood Easter egg hunt with hundreds of beautifully colored eggs; the excitement of Christmas, as with family, I attended parties, dinners, concerts, window shopped, sat on Santa’s lap and declared my “nice” status for the year, and witnessed the magic of good will to all men through service; my first grade teacher’s miniskirts and white boots (and divorce); the kind policeman who served as crossing guard, complete with whistle and hand signs; watching (and being mesmerized by) the pilot episode of Sesame Street, and laughing at Carol Burnett and Andy Griffith as my mom put curlers in my hair on Saturday nights; the fall of the Berlin Wall, MTV, gas shortages, ban on radio/television cigarette advertisements, American Top 40, Watergate, daylight savings, speed limit lowered to 55, John Lennon assassination, missing children awareness–faces on milk cartons, and “We are the World” (awareness of famine and AIDS), and….

I’m sure the songbook of my future will include well-loved popular titles such as Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, Superstition, Mama Told Me Not To Come, The Long and Winding Road, Stairway to Heaven, Hotel California, Bennie and the Jets, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, A Horse with No Name, Cat’s in the Cradle, The Tears of a Clown, ABC, War, One Bad Apple, Could It Be Magic, Close to You, Jive Talkin’, Joy to the World, I Shot the Sheriff, You’re So Vain, Have You Never Been Mellow, Another One Bites the Dust, Love is a Battlefield, Separate Ways, Cold Blooded, and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.

Music can calm, sooth, instill security, reduce stress, and provide great entertainment for individuals with dementia; it is not a treatment, but may help reduce negative behaviors. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association (2014) supports research claims that music therapy helps stimulate memory skills and communication, enhances socialization, and may be one of the lingering joys in life even in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease when a person can no longer remember names and faces. A variety of music supports different needs. For example, animated, happy songs can be a great way to start the day; soft, instrumental selections are perfect for relaxation during bathing, grooming, and meal times; upbeat, familiar tunes from the past may provide pleasant memories of youth along with sufficient energy to play games and exercise; and religious hymns generally influence peaceful behaviors.

So, what songs will you hope to find in your music book? What things will you want to remember? It’s interesting (and entertaining) to think about…

~Tamara Nixon, BS, CHES



Music for Dementia