LARGO — Is music our second language?
And if so, can it be a tool to communicate feelings and stir memories from long ago?
Local elder care professionals think so, and are putting their belief to practice by offering a new music therapy-based educational series for caregivers.
The class is held the second Thursday of each month at the senior living community Elmcroft of Pinecrest in Largo, which sponsors the program with Suncoast Hospice.
The class is to show senior caregivers how they can incorporate a variety of music-based activities into their daily routine with patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s or memory loss.
But why music?
“Since music is one of the last things those with dementia forget, it can be a powerful tool to help them through the day,” said Sue Osbourne, business development coordinator at Elmcroft of Pinecrest.
Osbourne said many dementia patients can remember words from songs they learned years ago.
“The power that music has over emotions, physical activity and mental awareness is useful to caregivers who need help managing the day,” Osbourne said. “Songs can improve moods or calm agitated residents. They can stimulate memories and evoke feelings of times gone by.”
Osbourne said memory-care activities used by directors use music to stimulate and energize its residents.
“It is their most loved activity and they always feel successful when they can sing along or even just remember the tune,” Osbourne said. “It gives them great pleasure and I love to see their faces light up when they hear a familiar tune.”
“Music is the earliest concept that we learn beginning with childhood and the first thing that we remembered,” Osbourne said.
Matthew Frederick, music therapist for Suncoast Hospice, who leads the class, takes caregivers through an assortment of music-based activities they can use with patients.
In the class, caregivers learn how to incorporate music into their daily patient care, using song and music to guide and enhance daily routines. They also can help patients structure their day, create a positive mood and draw on possibly long-forgotten memories.
Frederick at the Jan. 9 class led caregivers through an opening warmup musical exercise where they played small musical hand instruments as each caregiver is introduced to the class.
Music can be used in assortment of patient activities that can serve as a memory cue, provide daily structure, express an emotion, provide information, or simply be an acoustic exercise, Frederick said.
“Music can simply be used to set a tone or create a mood for a patient,” he said.
For instance, to serve as a “get the morning going” exercise, he played a recording of the Bill Withers song “Lovely Day” that includes key word phrases such as “wake up” and “lovely day” to interact with a patient.
“It (music) can bring awareness to the moment,” Frederick said. “It can be very helpful (to help the patient) become focused in the morning.”
Frederick said music can be used to create a patient’s daily structure by identifying parts of day. For example: play “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to create a patient’s morning time mood.
Music can stave off patient boredom or depression, or serve as an auditory stimulus for physical therapy for patients who suffer physical ailments, including Parkinson’s disease.
Music can also serve as a verbal cue to stir patients’ memory milestones from an earlier time, such as a wedding song.
“We can learn how to use music whenever we need it,” Frederick said.
Caregivers and members of the public are invited to attend the free class. Reservations are required.
To reserve a spot, email Osborne at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-581-8142. Elmcroft of Pinecrest is located at 1150 8th Ave. SW in Largo. The class meets in the library located in the first-floor lobby of Tower B.