Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are: The Introvert’s Guide to Using Music in Dementia Care

Helen is intuitive, creative, caring, and smart. She’s the Life Enrichment Coordinator for a cluster of small memory care homes where she has just been given a beginning budget to implement a comprehensive music program. She and I begin talking about how we can stretch the dollars she has available. I jump right in with “I could show you how to lead a sing-along when I’m not there.” 

It was then that Helen said to me, “Oh, I’m not the right person to lead a sing-along. I don’t have that kind of charisma. I’m not someone who can walk in and “own the room.” 

Helen is an introvert. 

Is this you? 

I’ve met many people with introverted personalities who work in elder care. Often, introverts think they’re not suited to leading music experiences because they don’t have the “right personality” for it. I’ve heard these folks say, 

“I don’t like being up in front of a group.” 

“I’m not good speaking in public.” 

“I’m better working one-on-one.” 

When it comes to music, being an introvert isn’t a “problem” or a “weakness.” Actually, it can be a great match for providing a personalized music experience, based on personal preferences. As an introvert, you can offer music experiences in an intimate, one-on-one manner that is aligned with your personality and meets the unique needs of the people you care for. 

Let me show you how. 

Here are some small stories that might inspire you to create similar experiences for the people in your care… (Click on the highlighted links to find some helpful resources and products.) 

Julie loaded Charlie into the front seat of her car and tuned the radio to a country music station. Pulling out of the driveway of the memory care home where he lives, they begin their weekly “road trip” singing along to his favorite songs. Sometimes she pops in one of his favorite CDs or uses her Sirius Radio to play music he will know and love. 

Jean stopped in to chat with Vera. She knows from talking to Vera’s daughter that Vera spent many happy hours of her youth dancing to the sounds of the big bands—Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and others. Using her smartphone and a small wireless speaker, Jean pulls up a Spotify list she has made and plays a few tunes. Vera’s feet move instinctively to the beat, and Jean sits across from her holding her hands and dancing along, copying her movements. Later, Jean makes a note of what songs Vera seemed to enjoy the most so that she can play them again or find other songs by the same big band. Down the hall, Jean uses a different list from iTunes that she knows will help soothe Beverly, who is missing her husband and feeling anxious. 

Sarah has purchased a record player for the day program that she runs. She’s been collecting older albums from her parents, from the families of the folks who spend the day with her, and from the record shop in town. Sometimes she finds them at the thrift shop. You might see her sitting with one person simply choosing records to play. Sometimes she sits with a small group sorting through the records. They talk about the album covers and the musicians. They take turns choosing what to play. Sometimes they talk about the memories associated with the songs. Sometimes they talk about what kind of music they like. Sometimes they dance. Sometimes they sing along. 

Sue keeps a small CD player and a collection of CDs at her desk. She uses them to make short “music visits” to the residents. She knows the residents, and she has a variety of music to choose from. Sometimes she even takes a few small rhythm instruments along. These “music visits” help her engage with people who are no longer able to chat with her or participate in some of the other activities she offers. 

It’s Valentine’s Day (or the first day of spring or the Fourth of July or…), so Erica pulls up a YouTube Playlist on the big-screen TV and shares it with the residents. They watch Dean Martin sing “That’s Amore” and watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance. 

You don’t have to be a “rockstar.” 

If you’re an introvert, I hope these small stories will inspire you to take small actions. Set one tiny goal to help you get started. Introverts and personalized music experiences can be a great combination. You don’t have to “own the room.” You don’t have to have a huge budget or spend a lot of time preparing. You just have to start. You’ve got this.

To learn more about how to choose music, visit the Song Guides in the Resource Library on my website: www.SingingHeartToHeart.com. You may also use my Finding Memories through Music: A Family Interview to help you personalize your music selections.

Note: This article first appeared in Teepa Snow’s Online Dementia Journal, a resource I highly recommend.

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