Dancing With Poppop

When the iconic opening beats of "Jailhouse Rock" tumbled out of the speaker of my phone, his ears would perk up. He knew this one! Maybe there would be a little toe tapping from the wheelchair he is fastened into, but a decided calm, as compared to the agitated looks and glances I witnessed when I would first come to the nursing home, had set in among the facial features of my Poppop.

"Goin' to a party at the county jail..." I would sing and wiggle in my seat, clasping his hands or tapping out the beat on his knee. It is a far cry from the mornings in Luzerne County, Pennslyvania, where Elvis hour populated the early morning Sunday radio accompanying Pop and Gram in the kitchen cooking pork roll and home fries. The sounds and smells of which would waft into the guest bed, and beckon me into a new day visiting with my grandparents.

But, it's what we had in the moment. And, it turns out, music is a great therapeutic tool for those who are suffering from dementia.

Breaking the barriers of Alzheimer's

For almost as long as I can remember knowing about my Pop's Alzheimer's diagnosis, I have heard anecdotal evidence of the positive effects of music on those who are suffering from dementia.

Today, there is research to back it up. One such article published in BMJ Open was a systematic review of non-pharmacologic interventions to treat behavioral disturbances in older patients with dementia, and it showed that music therapy was effective in reducing agitation and anxiety. Others are out there, go check it out!1

A colleague of mine who always thinks of me when Alzheimer's-related news comes her way recently forwarded a grand undertaking to assess music for danceability, energy, positivity, lyrics, tempo, and loudness. The result of Lottie's analysis? Two playlists curated with dementia patients in mind, containing songs spanning 6 decades, one designed for movement and energy, the other targeted for calm.

These playlists may transport your loved one to a place of their youth, cause a toe-tapping, booty shaking good time, ease the mind out of a state of high alert, or just allow for an escape from the current moment in time.

Make your own

I personally would encourage you to look back at your history with your person and create a playlist of your own. Choose songs that resonate throughout the years, or decades, you have spent with the person. For example, another artist my Pop loved was Bob Seger. There is no way that I could create a playlist for him that didn't include "Old Time of Rock and Roll." My cousins and I danced with him to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" at a wedding, and I would be remiss not to include that one, especially considering how he cut a rug dancing to it! Thank you Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

You don't need too many songs, a half dozen or so is a good start. You can use music players and libraries that are accessible and free, such as Spotify, to not break the bank. Once you have chosen them, all there is to do is listen with your loved one. How does she respond? Take in his facial expressions, mannerisms, and, hopefully, fabulous dance moves.

Dance like someone is watching

One thing I can tell you for sure, the songs you share with your loved one will stick with you for the long run. These are the songs I hear when I need a reminder that the old man is here with me. And you better bet I dance like he's watching when I hear them.

One more Elvis song for the road, shall we? "Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you."

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