nonverbal elders, musicFew would argue caregiving lacks challenges. Caring for those who are nonverbal adds to the challenge – an issue for many caregivers of elders. How can you know whether you are offering comfort, reassurance, pleasure? A request came from Dorothy S.:

“I would like to see more written about the value of music for non-verbal elderly patients. During my mother’s last days she mostly slept. I felt helpless that I could not offer her direct reassurance and comfort. She loved classical music and so I decided to play some for her (and myself) as I sat beside her. I don’t know if she heard it, but I hope so. I know I did.”

It sounds as though Dorothy shared the music her mother had shared with her. It was likely helpful in providing support to both her mother and herself .

Specialists in eldercare have long recognized the role of music. A breakthrough will sometimes occur when the music is paired with the caregiver being focused on the individual and reflecting what is happening. This video of  Naomi Fiel, M.S.W., A.C.S.W with Gladys Wilson is a powerful example.

*Naomi is the author of  Validation: The Feil Method (Affiliate Link) and of The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias (Affiliate Link).  Her books or specialized training through groups including Memory Bridge have assisted countless people.

There is no simple one size fits all music formula for non-verbal elders. Each person brings their own music experiences with them on the journey.  Emotions and memories are often tied to  music. Medical conditions can change our tolerance for sounds and stimulation.

Here are four tips to assist caregivers in creating a musical formula for nonverbal elders.

  1. Find our the person’s musical preferences.  Lacking a history or a list, memories of loved ones can serve as a starting point just like it did for Dorothy. As no person can know whether they will become nonverbal, creating a personal musical history or a list of music experiences/preferences can be important. .
  2. Observe the person when music is playing watching for both positive and negative responses. If they become agitated or distraught, turn it off!
  3. Be sure the music is played at a comfortable volume.
  4. Remember to have periods without music (or TV) otherwise it becomes background noise.

There are times to use recordings,  times to hire an entertainer and times to hire a music therapist.  (Board-certified music therapist Rachelle Norman has done a wonderful job outlining the specifics on the last two items.) To locate a board certified music therapist in the US, visit the Certification Board for Music Therapist.

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