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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Alzheimer’s disease and group singing

Barbara Jacobs is the creator of the video/CD series, “Front Row Seat” (http://www.frontrowseatvideos.com/) specifically designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Her formula for success working with people with AD is to lead a music class, not just a sing-along. She begins with a reminiscing warm-up activity, bringing in a CD, for example, of Nat King Cole or Judy Garland. After playing a song or two, she provides some brief information on the artist’s life (easily found on the CD cover or the Internet), and then encourages participants to share their memories and knowledge. The singing follows, helped along by large print copies of the lyrics, for those who want them.

There are many other ways to enliven group singing. Barb, as demonstrated on her CDs, adds such things as dancing, blowing bubbles and children to the mix. Another idea is to change the words. For example, the song “My Favorite Things” from “Sound of Music,” has been re-written in an aging version that includes these lines:
When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Parodies are fun to sing (and create), but a simpler way to change the words is simply to change the nouns. For example, change the:
  • Flowers in “When You Wore a Tulip, and I Wore a Big Red Rose" (lilac and daffodil?)
  • Ethnicity in “My Wild Irish Rose” (Mexican?)
  • Name in any song that uses one, such as “I’m in Love with Amy,” (why not Nancy or Susie?) or “I’m Just Wild About Harry” (Why not Johnny or Jimmy?)
  • Colors in any song that includes them (Why not red suede shoes, purple rose of Texas or blue cliffs of Dover?)

All of these ideas can also be used to start a reminiscence discussion on a musical theme, too. For example:

  • Talk about colors participants like by singing songs like "The Little Brown Jug," "When the Red, Red Robin," and "By the Light of the Silvery Moon."
  • Talk about the funny things you did when you were younger by beginning with silly songs: "The Flat Foot Floogie," "Mairzy Doats," and "Barney Google."
  • Talk about names you like or how you were named by singing "Sweet Adeline," "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" "Alexander’s Ragtime Band," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."
  • Discuss your courting days and sing, "Love and Marriage," "I Want a Girl," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," "Makin' Whoopee," and "Get Me to the Church on Time."

There are dozens more songs in each of these categories and dozens more categories that will stir up memories and start the toes tapping. One resource for ideas and trivia games with song titles is ElderSong’s “Say it with Music.” (http://www.eldersong.com/StoreFront.bok)

You can intersperse singing with discussion as Barb Jacobs recommends, whenever you need a change of pace. People with AD tend to be good at filling in the blanks when you say the beginning of a line or title to a song, such as:

  • Hail, Hail . . . The Gang’s All Here
  • I Wonder Who's . . . Kissing Her Now
  • In the Good Old . . . Summertime
  • Let Me Call . . . You Sweetheart
  • You Must Have Been . . . a Beautiful Baby

You can also ask opinion questions about music: Do you like Big Band music? Do you enjoy close harmony singing like barbershop quartets or the Andrews sisters?

By Kathy Laurenhue, excerpted from Wiser Now Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Tips, (June 2008, Vol.9 Issue 5). Available from www.wisernowalz.com or www.wisernow.com.

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