Old Songs and Poems — A Link to the Past

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Being a caregiver to someone with dementia can be very challenging, especially if it’s hard to make conversation or to just feel like you’ve connected with the one you are caring for. What happened a few minutes ago, or even a few seconds ago may be lost to your elder, but some things remain even after decades. I’ve found this true with songs and poems. Not only do many with dementia remember old lyrics from songs and lines from poems but they bring back a lot of joy!

As a child, the lady across the street became another “grandma” to me. Like many people in their 80s, she had some trouble with her memory, but not when it came to literature. She had a lovely large bookcase in her living room, filled with books of poetry and children’s nursery rhymes she once shared with her now grown granddaughter. On my visits she would sit and read them to me. Although most of the time she knew each one by heart she would still follow along with her aging eyes. I know she enjoyed the time we spent just as much as I did.

Memories of Songs

When I was working in an assisted living and facilitating the activities for the memory care, a favorite past time for all the seniors was our sing-alongs. I’d put on the music and pass out the song books and soon there were smiles across the whole room. Sometimes we’d all get mixed up but that was time to laugh together.

Patriotic songs, hymns and even lullabies were very popular with my group of 20. There were a few in our book that I didn’t know but my seniors did!

These songs just seemed to bring the whole group of seniors together. It brought up lots of good memories and even when the music was turned off, the good moods remained.

Poetry Readings

The University of Exeter in the UK started a program where literature students went into assisted living communities and read to residents. It has been a huge hit with the seniors and the students. Students were amazed as many of the residents could recite many of the poems. While reading a play to one of the residents, another student was very surprised when the older woman knew each and every line! She had been an actress as a young adult and even with dementia she could remember all the words. Read more about the students’ experiences at the Care Homes Reading Project.

So if your loved one is having a hard day, or you need something to lift your own spirits, try putting on some music or bring out a worn book of poetry. You’ll make connections that both of you will enjoy.

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