Last year for the holidays, I wrote about 4 Rhythma-tastic Holiday Goodies for Facilitating. Check the bottom of that post for additional holiday tips from other music therapists!

Those tips are awesome to use with all sorts and types of clients. But when I wrote it, I had residents in independent living in mind. You can certainly adapt and modify the tips according to the needs of your own clients.

Activities for seniors

Today however, I would like to address spending the holidays with people who are in mid-late stages Alzheimers/dementia. The topic of engaging with those in late stage dementia came up a lot at the American Music Therapy Association conference. (By the way, did you know that you can win a free membership in AMTA by Dec 20?)

I’m listing 7 awesome strategies to make music with those in late stage dementia. Of course completing a proper assessment and treatment plan are a must! Also, make sure to consult with a board-certified music therapist in your area. You can find them all listed here.

And these are great tools, but most importantly, speak, interact, touch, dance, and sing with your clients in late stage dementia regularly. That’s what matters…. the relationship and environment that YOU help to create.

Don’t forget to include the family in the assessment. They will have some great insight for you as you design the treatment plan.

I also adopt the philosophy of “Less talking, More experiencing” when working with people who have Alzheimer’s. Words may get in the way. However, I use words to speak clearly in preparing my client for what’s to come. For instance “Betty, these are bells. May I have your hand?”

These strategies have a very quick learning curve, so dig in!

1. Hand-over-hand drum sliding. Animal skin feels so nice if you have an authentic drum. But also rubbing someone’s hand over a synthetic drum head creates a calming ocean-rain sound. Perfect song: Silent Night

2. Hand-over-hand drum-tum-tumming. You must be gentle to avoid bruising. Even just guiding the fingers tips in tapping the drum. Perfect song: Winter Wonderland

3. Hand-over-hand drumming with a mallet. Sometimes drumming becomes easier when mallets are used. Watch my review of the adaptive mallet cuff. If your client needs assistance with grasp, then the mallet cuff is right up your alley. Perfect song: 12 Days Of Christmas (with 12 drummers drumming) or Little Drummer Boy

4. Velcro-strap jingle bells. Another type of assistive instrument. I especially like these because they have a nice round sound, and they are the perfect weight. You can velcro these to wrists and ankles, then do some hand-over-hand Rockin Around the Christmas Tree!

5. Ocean drum. This drum provides a great tactile experience. You can place it in a lap, or share it so there are four hands holding it. Sway it back and forth. Swirl it round and round. Perfect song: Do You Hear What I Hear (Change the lyrics according to the in-the-moment experience.)

6. Cabasa. Tactile, tactile, tactile. Roll it to the beat. Roll it for ambient sound. Make sure to prepare your client by saying “I’m going to roll this cabasa up and down your arm.” Start with a gentle touch. Perfect song: Festival of Lights for Hanukkah

7. Hand-over-hand tambourines. Roll the hand over the jingles, rub the hand on the drum head. Perfect song: We Three Kings

I use chimes, triangles, and toning bowls cautiously for this population, unless I’m absolutely sure that it’s a good fit for the individual. With the proper preparation and demonstration, these tools would be perfect. But avoid any instrument that might startle your client.

And remember: The brain is active. The brain is receptive. Introduce yourself. Allow the opportunities for the individual to vocalize back and forth in conversation.

My friend Natalie Mullis wrote recently about Alzheimer’s and Divorce. Also, my friend Rachelle Norman wrote about using an ocean drum with her clients living with late stage. Both are great reads!

Off to the Jingle Jungle for me! 3 holiday sessions back-to-back this morning. Did I ever mention this is the best job EVER?

What do you do for your clients living with mid-late stage dementia?

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