Tag Archives: caregiver stories

Using Music to Enhance Dementia Care, Part 1

We’ve used the healing power of music with my Mom since the start of her disease. It boosted her mood when she was depressed about her dementia diagnosis and calmed her as she struggled with delusions. More than 1.5 million people have seen the video of Henry, an inert nursing home resident, who comes to life when he hears tunes he loves. It’s truly impressive. But the amazing thing about music is its power to solve new problems as dementia evolves.

Between the Pond and the Woods

When movement became difficult for my mom, we used old rock and roll songs like Rock Around the Clock and At the Hop to get her dancing in place and boost her circulation. These days she can’t stand up to dance, but we’ve found that music is still a powerful tool in the management of her care.

For the past six months, my mother’s ability to walk has been impaired by a mysterious wound on her ankle that hasn’t responded to treatment. This month Mom started getting care at a hyperbaric wound center. The new healing process has reduced her pain and made it easier for her to take the few steps needed to get from the wheelchair to her bed. Then one night I discovered that these few steps went more smoothly if we played music while she took them.

It was a simple observation with profound implications. Now, we get her up each evening to walk (very) slowly through the kitchen before we get her ready for bed. If we play jazzy music with a strong beat, she seems to forget all about the mechanics of walking. Her lifelong connection with rhythm and dance helps her move her feet confidently toward her destination. When we guide her carefully and move with the rhythm of the song, she even seems to enjoy walking. In fact, she can go about ten times as far when a favorite tune is playing.

You may not realize the significance of this nightly walk if you’re caring for someone in the early phases of dementia. But if you start using this powerful tool early in the game to help a loved one enhance their mobility, you may be able to employ it to overcome difficult challenges in the future. Find a song they love and make (legal) copies of it. Then you can invoke the power of music when and where it helps most!

Better Caregiving Using this Important Tool: Breathe to Win

This entry marks the first in a series of posts on strange, but effective, caregiver strategies I’ve discovered during my mom’s illness.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Some of these ideas may be more or less relevant, depending on which stage of the disease you’re facing. But my intention is to start with really basic ideas that can be used in different ways throughout the caregiving journey. Here’s the First Weird Tip: Learn to Breathe Strategically.

Let’s face it. We all have to breathe. But breathing techniques are also used in physical training to improve athletic performance. If you’ve ever tried lifting weights, martial arts, yoga, or even calisthenics, you may have learned that you can control your breath to give yourself a physical advantage. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve taken yoga classes for a large part of my adult life. During the early stages of my mother’s dementia, I realized that I could use yoga breathing techniques to help Mom through delusions and panic attacks.

When she was having a troubling episode, one thing that seemed to help her was a gentle, but firm, hug and the steady sound of my breath in her ear. If I could calm myself and breathe slowly with my nose near her, the sound of my steady respiration helped Mom regulate her own breathing and bring herself back from the summit of panic.

No doctor ever suggested this to me. I just stumbled on the technique by accident when I noticed that my focused breath brought some measure of peace to us in chaotic moments. Now I use my breath in different situations to calm us both down and deal with whatever crisis is underway.

The technique is simple. When there is nothing crazy happening in your life, practice counting while you breathe. See if you can get yourself to breathe evenly — inhale for three counts, exhale for three. Keep the rhythm going for a minute or two, just to get used to this habit. After you practice it for a while in times of peace, you’ll be ready to use it when a tempest breaks loose. Think of it as a kind of “time out” that will help both of you get your bearings.

You can use counted breath to do many other things that I’ll discuss in future posts. Let me know if it works for you when you’re faced with a problem. I’d also like to hear from you if you have special tricks you’d like to share with other readers. I’ll feature the best suggestions here over the next few months.